The plot sees Sandler voicing Count Dracula, who runs a sanctuary for all the world’s monsters; a place where the actually gentle creatures can go to be safe from the evil, terrifying humans. Every year, Dracula invites all the monsters ’round at once, to throw a huge birthday party for his daughter Mavis, who’s growing up fast (she’s 118, not a little 64 year old any more!) He’s overbaring and overprotective, and wants to keep Mavis safe in the Hotel forever. But Mavis yearns for more – to see the world and give humans another chance. Maybe they’re not the reactionary, pitchfork wielding mobs of old any more? When Andy Samberg’s human Jonny blunders his way into the Hotel and she falls for him, Dracula has to confront his own issues with humans.
You can probably tell all of the lessons that all of the characters will learn throughout the film just from that synopsis. The film is low on surprises, and even lower on actual jokes. Unlike the infinitely superior ParaNorman and Frankenweenie, Hotel Transylvania is very much aimed at the little’uns. Where Pixar have perfected the art of blurring a children’s film with adult entertainment, Sony Pictures Animation haven’t even tried. If you’re an adult, there’s nothing for you here. Move along.
There are a few nice ideas, but they’re undeveloped. The notion of the monsters being terrified of humans is a fun one, if not terribly original (Monsters Inc.), but Hotel Transylvania doesn’t really use it. In fairness, there is one line that’s both clever and funny – but it’s a rarity. When human Johnny finds himself in monster central, Dracula dresses him up as a fellow monster to hide his presence, noting, “Well, I can’t kill him. It would set monsters back hundreds of years!” Where was that wit during the rest of the film? Elsewhere, digs at Twilight are as insipid and inevitable as you’d expect, and the running jokes don’t so much run as seep geriatrically past in a wisp of humourless confusion. As for depth, the subtext is so sub that it’s entirely possible that it’s there by accident. The notion of Johnny having to face up to “coming out” as a human to Mavis is brought up, but never followed through on.
One of the main problems with Hotel Transylvania is that it’s far too manic. Children’s films like this have to be exciting, colourful and vibrant to keep young attentions from wandering, but this takes it a few steps too far. The animation is fluid, with everyone and everything bending, bulging, stretching and morphing as required, but Director Genndy Tartakovsky seems intent on having characters zipping and darting around the screen far more than is necessary. When Drac is simply in a room, talking to his daughter, is there any need for him to continuously and aimlessly dart around the room like a pissed-up fly? The frenetic ‘camera-work’ becomes incredibly wearing, incredibly quickly.
That might be tolerable if the frenzied Dracula were actually someone we wanted to see on screen, but unfortunately he’s voiced by Adam Sandler. As has been firmly established many times over, any character Adam Sandler touches turns into an immensely irritating, stupidly voiced humour-sapping beacon of smug twattery. And this is no exception. Barely escaping from That’s My Boy with his integrity intact, Andy Samberg fares less well here with his second team-up with Sandler. His human intruder is clearly meant to be funny and endearing, but he’s just irritating.
Thankfully, then, Hotel Transylvania has Selena Gomez. And there’s something we never thought we’d be saying. But it’s true; Gomez lends real heart to her mature young 118 year old, and her voice acting is by far the highlight of the film. While Samberg’s Johnny is an irritatingly one dimensional character – he’s enthusiastic about everything and that’s about all there is – the romance between Johnny and Mavis is well measured and warming, even if it is often lost amid Sandler’s bullshit and the mania of the rest of the film.
The rest of the voice cast is padded out by Steve Buscemi’s world-weary werewolf, Kevin James’ Frankenstein, Cee Lo Green’s obese Mummy and David Spade’s Invisible Man – as well a game Fran Drescher as Frankenstein’s wife, making fun of her own notoriously irritating voice – although most of them are brow-beaten into submission by Dracula’s annoying dominion over the screen. The film ends in a moment that sums up everything about it. Dracula, Mavis, Johnny and the monsters get together to sing a song; the camera’s spastic movements robbing the scene of any coherence, while the cast embarrass themselves in singing a horrible, auto-tuned mess of a song which is the sort of pandering to popular culture that your grandma might attempt after one too many Crèmes de menthe at a wedding. It’s an abomination all round. The characters are covering the official song for the movie, and if you like to think you’re the sort of person who would never punch a child, click this link and find your entire belief system shattered.
If you want to take the kids to see a cartoon this Hallowe’en, then take them to something else. Kids and adults alike will find far more worth in, and get far more out of, either ParaNorman or Frankenweenie than they will with this brightly coloured, but ultimately annoying, insipid, and uninspired fare.