Disney+ has gained a reputation Foie gras of streaming services. It’s not that it’s particularly delicate, it’s more that it likes to force-feed us until we explode. Look what it did to Star Wars, took away three movies that people loved 45 years ago and bloated the franchise beyond comprehension. Or Marvel, which punctured this century’s dominant form of entertainment by making the mistake of enhancing it with a never-ending stream of mediocre TV shows.
The latest title to receive attention is Goosebumps, RL Stine’s series of weird books that have been keeping children awake at night for three decades. I have good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news: Disney is absolutely shitting on the delivery of this product. When the show aired this morning, only two of the five promised episodes were available. To make matters worse, they are episodes three and four. The first two men were gone. If the situation on Twitter is any indication, Goosebumps fans are not happy about this at all.
The better news, though, is that Disney isn’t likely to choose a stronger franchise to adapt to. Almost immediately after the publication of Sting’s first book, Goosebumps became available to all forms of media. It has previously appeared on television in the form of a 74-episode anthology series produced in the 1990s. This is a movie series. There are Goosebumps games, comics, and musicals. All of these iterations took on their own tone – the TV series could be downright scary, while the movie was dangerously close to parody – but they all managed to retain Goosebumps’ core DNA.
This new series marks another tonal handbrake turn, with Goosebumps now doing its best to be Stranger Things . A group of elementary school students noticed that the surroundings were getting weirder and weirder, possibly caused by the death of a student, so they joined forces to explore what was going on.
But it’s certainly not Stranger Things, because Stranger Things is a show about some cute kids trying to incorporate as many 1980s references as possible into every episode. Goosebumps has none of that. It’s set in the present day, so there’s no nostalgic irony to be found anywhere. There are no cute kids here either. This is a more traditional high school drama and all the characters look to be around 32 years old. This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but when one of the teachers is played by Justin Long – a 45-year-old man who looks about 12 years old – it sometimes becomes harder to discern than it should be Who is who.
The Stranger Things homage means the show moves slower than you might think. The ones I’ve seen all have their fair share of jumps and scares, but they’re all filled with long, flat soapy scenes in which the characters discuss their feelings for each other. One lengthy subplot involving a married teacher’s elopement with a local widow feels like it’s been ripped straight from the disastrous 1990s BBC soap El Dorado.
It’s frustrating when Goosebumps forgets that and gets right to the heart of Sting’s books, which are an absolute blast. The two new episodes have moments of dazzling joy. In one, a character bangs a cuckoo clock on his head and is visited by multiple versions of himself, who reveal themselves to be clones in the most goosebump-inducing way possible. The second story follows a crazy thrill-seeker who gains new abilities after eating bugs. The episode ends with a tour de force of character design that reminded me—perhaps intentionally—of Bong Joon-ho’s The Monster from the Han River. These moments are as perfect as Stan’s book itself. Enough to scare young children without feeling condescending.
The cast also received good reviews. For all his overly boyish appearance, Lang is pretty remarkable. His character needs to switch quickly between silly and sinister. A lot of actors have trouble finding the right tone. However, Long looks like he’s having the time of his life.
Well, this version of Goosebumps has a lot of promise. However, it’s up to Disney to determine how it goes forward. It needs to resist extracting wealth through dozens of unnecessary derivatives. But most importantly, it requires learning how to upload episodes in the correct order. Breaking basic principles like this is inexcusable.
“Goosebumps” is now available on Disney+.