For most people Hotel Transylvania looks like another Adam Sandler and Friends vehicle with a trendy pop star from an animation studio not known for its top quality product. One could understand why no one’s expectations were that high. But mine were. Mine were high because Genndy Tartakovsky directed the movie. You may not know the name, but you know his work. Tartakovsky created the sublimely clever Dexter’s Laboratory and the decidedly awesome Samurai Jack and the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated films.
Now you’re a little bit more excited about Hotel Transylvania aren’t you? Surely an animation director that awesome changes the entire film into something fantastic. A mix of Dexter’s Laboratory style with Sandler could actually work and produce a really great movie.
Sorry to get your hopes up for one paragraph and then dash them in the next, but Hotel Transylvania is nothing more than it purports to be. If you keep those expectations low and bring along the kids, though, it’s not exactly what you’re expecting.
Hotel Transylvania takes Adam Sandler and puts him into the role of Dracula with a gang of cohorts joining in as supporting monsters: Frankenstein/Frank (Kevin James), Invisible Man/Griffin (David Spade), The Mummy/Murray (Cee Lo Green), wereworlf,Wayne (Steve Buscemi), etc. Of course all these monsters are nice in this movie, and are afraid of the evil creatures that are humans. Dracula’s wife was in fact killed by fearful villagers and so he builds a hotel where it is safe for monsters to stay. It’s also a great place to keep his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), safe from the outside world despite her tweenage yearning to leave.
After 118 years of being cooped up Mavis wants to get out and in doing so attracts the attention of the first human to ever enter the hotel, Jonathan (Andy Samberg). The plot, like all good children’s fare, revolves around acceptance and fear of the unknown. In many ways it handles it well, teaching a life lesson that while there is bad out there we can’t just hide from it. But the characters are so cookie cutter (here’s the fart guy, here’s the dumb guy, here’s the joker, etc.) that it lacks any of the depth of the truly great children’s films. This is definitely B-grade fair that never really tries to push into the type of heart present in stronger children’s animation.
There screenplay is actually clever at times, with plenty of monster puns throughout and jokes that for the most part will delight parents and fans of old school monster films more than the kids. In fact, while everything is handled in a very lighthearted way, there are definitely aspects of this film that I would deem too scary or violent for younger children. At one point a host of zombies catches on fire, and while it’s all pretty slapstick it does start pushing it. As an adult, however, I did find myself laughing at a decent amount of the jokes, and one of the benefits of Sandler hiring his friends to be in movies is that when they’ve got someone like Tartakovsky controlling them they have a ton of chemistry.
The funny parts are mostly throw away jokes, and that means that the story itself doesn’t benefit that much from them. On the whole there’s not much new to watch here and while the growing infatuation between Jonathan and Mavis is handled adequately the overall storyline just isn’t anything that interesting. Jonathan is especially annoying as a backpacking, stoner with a heart of gold who basically fumbles his way into trying to be charming. I know it’s a kids’ movie so character isn’t all the important, but the guy was just flat out annoying for most of the movie. And since so many of the performers are singers all the characters are eventually forced into performing musical numbers, which almost completely destroy the flow of the film they’re so out of place. There’s even the obligatory closing musical number, which was clearly created to show up on some music chart somewhere.
There’s nothing wrong per se with Hotel Transylvania. Some of the charm and humor from Tartakovky’s previous work shines through and it’s actually one of Sandler’s more enjoyable outings in a long while. However, it just doesn’t go anywhere special. This is film that will be seen forgotten and never talked about again. On the bright side, Tartakovksy can now start work on his own projects instead of someone else’s.