“Girl vs. Monster,” a new original movie for Disney Channel, is everything you would expect from the House of Mouse. It’s slick and polished, not too scary, and peppered with toe-tapping tunes. Star Olivia Holt even looks like Britney Spears, Hilary Duff and Miley Cyrus rolled into one. Still, the pic is akin to a good piece of Halloween candy that’s sugary sweet on the outside but has a chewy surprise in the middle.
Writers Annie DeYoung and Ron McGee present a timely analogy about the fear and loathing of teen years set amid a monster-busting theme. Even while acting grown up, chances are most kids are still afraid of the dark, and notions of facing their fears as well as those who exploit them make for a nice tie-in to both Halloween and National Bullying Prevention Month.
Skylar (Holt) is about to turn 16, and will inherit the family business. What she doesn’t know is that it’s the monster-hunting business. Her parents, who pose as mold-fighting scientists, want to protect her from the truth for as long as possible. Halloween is their busiest night, but Skylar, not understanding the risks, would rather sneak out to a party than stay safely at home. To effect her escape, she disarms the house alarm by turning off the power — and inadvertently lets loose a horde of monsters.
As Skylar and her pals Sadie (Kerris Dorsey) and Henry (Brendan Meyer) quickly learn, fear feeds the monsters. And a house full of teenagers ripe with self-doubt is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. While the monsters have a lot of work to do considering kids today are jaded and harder to scare — even vampires are considered cool — as any good monster knows, targeting loved ones is always a good weak spot.
“Girl vs. Monster” has the trappings of a typical teen story, including mean girls, cute guys and a fabulously outfitted party. Choreographer Paul Becker includes some genuinely fun dance numbers, and Holt gets to showcase three songs.
Viewers can’t help but note shades of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Ghostbusters” throughout the film. Director Stuart Gillard emphasizes not super powers but just plain courage — whether against a bully, in the face of a school presentation, or in front of an ancient monster. As far as the scares go, “Girl vs. Monster” is a tame initiation into the supernatural. Gillard utilizes a bit of the jerky fast-forward movement popularized in “The Ring” that would give anybody the creeps, and there are enough perilous situations to upset younger audiences.
Despite being geared to tweens, though, the movie might be most frightening to parents — albeit by the prospect of a future ripe with skinny jeans and boy bands.