Disney+ has developed a reputation as the foie gras of streaming services. This isn’t because it is particularly refined, more that it likes to force-feed us until we explode. Look what it did to Star Wars, taking three films that people liked 45 years ago and bloating the franchise beyond all comprehension. Or Marvel, puncturing the century’s dominant entertainment form by mistakenly augmenting it with a never-ending stream of mediocre television.

The latest property to be given this attention is Goosebumps, the series of spooky RL Stine books that stopped children from being able to sleep at night for three decades. And I have good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news: Disney has absolutely whiffed the delivery of this one. 

When the series dropped this morning, only two of the five promised episodes were made available. Worse, they are episodes three and four. The first two were nowhere to be seen. If the state of Twitter is any indication, Goosebumps fans are far from happy about this.

The better news, though, is that Disney couldn’t have picked a sturdier franchise to adapt. Almost as soon as Stine’s first books were published, Goosebumps has made itself readily available to all forms of media. It has previously been on TV, in the form of a 74-episode anthology series made in the 1990s. 


It’s a movie franchise. There have been Goosebumps games, comics and musicals. All these iterations have taken their own tone – the TV show could be fantastically scary, while the films skate dangerously close to parody – but they have all managed to retain the core Goosebumps DNA.

This new series marks another tonal handbrake turn, in that Goosebumps is now doing its best to be Stranger Things. There are a bunch of schoolkids who notice a growing weirdness around them, possibly caused by the death of a student, and band together to explore what on earth might be going on.

But it isn’t Stranger Things, of course, because Stranger Things is a show about some cute kids trying to pack as many 1980s references into each episode as possible. Goosebumps has none of that. It’s set in the present day, so there’s no nostalgic irony to be found anywhere. And there are no cute kids here, either. 

This is a more traditional high school show, in that all the characters look as if they’re about 32 years old. Not 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 – it sometimes becomes harder than it should to work out who is who.

The Stranger Things homage means that episodes are slower than you would expect. The ones I’ve seen all have their fair share of jumps and scares, but they’re padded out with long, flat soapy scenes where the characters discuss their feelings for one another. 


One long-running subplot concerns a married teacher who is having it away with the local widow, which feels like it was ripped directly from disastrous 1990s BBC soap Eldorado.

What is so frustrating about this is that, when Goosebumps forgets about this and goes straight to the core of what Stine’s books were, it can be an absolute blast. The two episodes available at launch both have moments of giddy delight. In one, a character bangs his head on a cuckoo clock and is visited by multiple versions of himself, who reveal themselves as clones in the most Goosebumpy way possible. 

The second concerns a lunkish thrillseeker who is granted new powers after eating worms. The end of the episode features a masterpiece of character design that reminded me – probably intentionally – of Bong Joon-ho’s The Host. These moments are as perfectly pitched as Stine’s books themselves; just about scary enough to spook out younger kids, without ever feeling condescending.

The cast, too, is well judged. For his overly boyish looks, Long is tremendous. His character is required to flick between goofy and menacing at a rapid pace. A lot of actors would struggle to hit the right tone. Long, however, looks as if he’s having the time of his life.

This version of Goosebumps, then, has a lot of promise. How it does in the future, though, is up to Disney. It needs to resist milking the property to death with dozens of unnecessary spin-offs. More than anything, though, it needs to learn how to upload episodes in the right order. Messing up fundamentals like this is unforgivable.

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