Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania
By Matthew Huntley
October 4, 2012
Hotel Transylvania is light, funny and full of wholesome energy, but it is not inspired. It rides its one-note premise with such ease and charm that it’s nearly impossible not to like, although it’s not exactly memorable. Kids will like it just fine, and adults will too, but part of them will be wishing the movie’s humor and story had taken more chances and used its animated-family-comedy veneer as a platform for more satire and social commentary, if only to stir things up a bit. As it is, it’s safe. Enjoyable, but safe.
The title more or less encapsulates the one-note premise I mentioned. Count Dracula, a.k.a. Drac (voice of Adam Sandler), owns and operates a hotel exclusively for monsters. All the classic characters show up and their voices are provided by Sandler’s usual gang of friends and comedians. There’s Frankenstein (Kevin James), or to be more precise, Frankenstein’s Monster; the wolf man, otherwise known as Wayne (Steven Buscemi); the Invisible Man, first name Griffin (David Spade); and the Mummy (CeeLo Green), but you can call him Murray. I guess they couldn’t find enough characters to go around for Sandler’s other pals like Rob Schneider, Nick Swardson and Chris Rock.
All the monsters have brought their families along on vacation to celebrate the 118th birthday of Drac’s beloved daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez). Also a vampire, Mavis longs to leave the family hotel and explore the world on her own, but Drac, being the uptight, control freak of a father that he is, discourages her from going any place where she might encounter humans. He’s not without good reason, including the fact that humans hunt monsters, or at least they did back in the 19th century. Drac thinks the world could be a much safer place if humans realized their paranoia was irrational. That way, both races might actually get along instead of fearing one another.
Yes, in this movie, monsters fear humans. That’s why when one shows up at the hotel, Drac does his best to keep him out of sight. The young man’s name is Jonathan (Andy Samberg) and he’s a 21-year-old trekking across Europe. He introduces Drac to modern-day accessories like a backpack and smartphone, which the Count, adamantly set in his ways, immediately despises. His only concern is passing Jonathan off as a monster until he can get rid of him, so he paints his skin blue and spikes his hair, calling him Frankenstein’s arm’s cousin.
Drac is almost in the clear until Jonathan locks eyes with Mavis and the two “zing” together, or experience that perfect moment when two people (or in this case, monster and human) know they’re made for each other. Mavis is in awe of all the places Jonathan has traveled, including those where humans thrive. She reconsiders the possibility humans may not be so bad after all, much to the dismay of Drac, who’s still wounded from a tragedy inflicted by Jonathan’s “kind.”
Hotel Transylvania embraces mostly traditional themes we’ve seen in other family movies, particularly animated ones. The idea of an overbearing father’s daughter wanting to break free goes as far back as The Little Mermaid, as does her desire to be with a human. The movie relies on this and other conventional story arcs to show off its colorful characters, slapstick humor and dazzling action sequences. Young audience members will eat it up, and I enjoyed it to a degree, but even for a “kids” movie, I wish the screenplay had opted to be more risqué and edgy. After seeing the better and more original ParaNorman, which, coincidentally, also had a macabre atmosphere, I was hoping a trend had been started where animated family movies started sneaking in material with more bite and contained jokes that adults could get now and kids would get later.
Still, the movie’s heart and humor are in the right place and Sandler and company prove to be good choices for the voice talents. We can sense how their own personalities were worked into their characters’ looks and natures (I’m sure it’s no coincidence Drac and Sandler look eerily alike). Kids won’t know this, but I got a kick out of it and it was refreshing to see this group’s typically mean-spirited buffoonery replaced with gentler, more appealing wisecracks. Knowing Sandler’s brand of humor, and after the detestable Eight Crazy Nights, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Hotel Transylvania employed more scatological gags, but I only counted one. That was enough for me and it made me think Sandler might actually be growing up, at least on the animated front. Now if he could just show the same signs of growth with his live action movies.