The first Goosebumps movie wasn’t an adaptation of one of R.L. Stine’s tween-horror books but a story about the Goosebumps books, in which Stine (played by Jack Black) had the power to bring his scary imaginings to life merely by writing them. With that established, the sequel doesn’t need Stine (though he shows up anyway, and remarks upon how he isn’t needed). Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween has a trio of teens finding one of Stine’s unpublished, unfinished manuscripts (that has for some reason been printed and bound), inadvertently releasing its evil into the world in the form of a ventriloquist’s dummy named Slappy (voiced by Mick Wingert).
Malevolent dolls can be pretty scary, but G2: HH keeps it PG, of course. Like its predecessor, the sequel doesn’t want to terrify children so much as give them Halloween funhouse vibes, which director Ari Sandel (The Duff) and screenwriter Rob Lieber (Peter Rabbit) more or less accomplish. It’s strictly garden-variety trick-or-treat frivolity, but it has a sense of humor, and the climactic mayhem — in which Halloween costumes, decorations, and even candy come to life — is admirably large-scale, including an amusing battle with a legion of gummy bears.
In a nutshell: pudgy science nerd Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and sidekick Sam (Caleel Harris) find the book in Stine’s old, abandoned house, and are surprised when Slappy magically appears and starts fighting bullies for them. Sonny’s older sister, Sarah (Madison Iseman), also gets involved, the film graciously skipping past the part where the kids say the doll is alive and nobody believes them. (“When a magic doll tells you to keep a secret, that’s a red flag,” Sarah says.) Slappy is friendly to them, his new “family,” but he’s vengeful toward their enemies and wants to unleash his magic on the whole town to create an army of monsters. (You know how it is with sentient puppets!) The kids are heroes, the adults (Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ken Jeong, Chris Parnell) are hapless bumblers, nobody gets hurt — PG monsters are only interested in property damage, really — and everybody goes home happy.