- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © Columbia
Reviewed by David Medsker
f you just did a quick scan of the cast, it would be fair to assume that “Hotel Transylvania” is essentially an animated version of “Grown Ups,” or any other movie where Adam Sandler drummed up some half-baked premise that allowed him to goof off with his buddies and get paid in the process. Look past the cast, though, and you’ll see two huge upgrades at director (Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Samurai Jack”) and writer (Robert Smigel, longtime “SNL” writer and creator of the “Saturday TV Funhouse” series). Sandler hasn’t worked with a director this good since “Punch-Drunk Love” (that was 10 years ago, by the way), so this had the makings of a big comeback, at least creatively speaking.
But it’s not. “Hotel Transylvania” has plenty of good visual gags and a couple of side-splitting one-liners, but rarely have a story’s idea and its execution been at such great odds. It rewrites decades of lore about the world’s most famous bogeymen without a word of explanation, expecting the audience to accept it all without a word. It’s a lot to swallow. Too much, really.
Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) promised his belated wife that he would protect their newborn daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) from those vile humans, and he has extended that vow to his monster friends by building Hotel Transylvania, a deluxe resort where his “kind” can relax free from torment from the human race. Mavis, now 118, has grown tired of the indoor kitty thing, and wants to see the world, and Dracula, desperate to keep his promise to his wife, engages in some underhanded trickery in order to convince her to stay home. Dracula’s issues are complicated, though, when an affable backpacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) enters the hotel, forcing him to create a ruse that reassures his hotel guests that it is still a human-free zone. Soon after, Mavis and Jonathan meet cute, and Dracula has to come to terms with his longstanding prejudices against humans.
The movie’s heart is certainly in the right place with its message of getting over your own biases for the sake of your children – Samberg utters a line during a quiet moment that is arguably the funniest bit in the movie – but where is its head? The scene where Dracula cons Mavis into staying in the castle is condescending, while the scene where Dracula risks his life to save the day flies in the face of everything we supposedly know about vampires and their weaknesses. Obviously, you can’t have the lead die in a movie aimed at kids (and he definitely would have died), so come up with another idea that stays true to both vampire legend and common sense. Anything would have worked better than what they went with here. And let’s not even discuss the fact that Mavis, the daughter of two immortals, grows older, but at a rate that’s convenient for the plot, much like the ridiculously named Renesmee in “Breaking Dawn.”
All the more maddening, then, when “Hotel Transylvania” delivers a stunning visual (the tracking shots through the hotel lobby are pretty awesome) or a great visual gag, like the time when someone foolishly dares Dracula to prove he’s Dracula. There are good ideas here – and the casting of Samberg as Jonathan is inspired – but the movie is constantly at odds with itself. Movies about monsters shouldn’t be afraid to take risks: they should let their freak flags fly. That’s the point, isn’t it?
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Sony Animation keeps things short and sweet with the extras for "Hotel Transylvania," and it turns out to be the perfect call. Director Genndy Tartakovsky contributes an audio commentary with members of his crew, and he even made a short film (in his traditional 2D animation style) called "Morning Mr. Foot." There are a three deleted scenes, one of which is nearly finished and would have been a nice addition to the film. The featurettes on the voice talent and the design of the hotel are fun, and artists will appreciate the bit on the animation style and techniques used in the film There is also a music video and a video on the making of the music video. Quite a bit of stuff to enjoy.