In the mid-1990s, exec producers Bob Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg fell in love with a story about a spooky suburban house that comes alive to do battle with some neighborhood kids. The idea, according to director Gil Kenan, came from writers Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab, who would later cook up the cult-fave TV pilot Heat Vision and Jack. (That’s the one where Jack Black rides around on a talking motorcycle, solving mysteries.)
The problem was, back then movie technology couldn’t conjure a truly anthropomorphic house. But by the time Kenan made a splash in 2002 with his half-CG, half-live-action student film The Lark, Zemeckis had begun pioneering a blend of motion-capture and CG animation trickery for The Polar Express. It felt like a good approach for Monster House, too. Kenan was recruited for his first feature at age 26, and work started in earnest in 2003.
So will these characters have the blank-eyed, real-yet-inert qualities the Polar Express kids had? ”They look like stop-motion puppets,” says Kenan of his protagonists. ”Big heads, big hands, exaggerated mouths.” He’s aiming for a PG flick that’s as scary as that rating will allow, and he’s thrilled that there are zero talking animals in his movie. ”I have nothing against cute talking things,” he says. ”But animation has so much more to offer.”