Movie review: Hotel Transylvania

By David Kahen-kashi

As the credits roll on Sony Animation’s new film “Hotel Transylvania,” we get a glimpse of what could have been. Far off castles upon distant mountains, windswept chasms draped with ivy, forgotten cemeteries, dark rococo hallways, foggy swamps and sun-drenched back alleys with obscured characters hiding amongst the shadows.

Where was this movie? Everything that preceded the concept art was completely uncharacteristic of the tomfoolery that was the feature film.

“Hotel Transylvania” is a monster menagerie movie directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, already an accomplished animator and creator in the TV realm with classic shows like “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Samurai Jack” to his name. This film marks his first foray in the animated, CGI realm.

The plot involves Dracula (Adam Sandler, “That’s My Boy”), who in this variation is a single father raising his 118-year-old daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez, “Monte Carlo”) by himself.  Fearing the world of humans, he constructs a Four Seasons-like hotel dedicated to becoming a safe haven for monsters. Trouble ensues when a human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg, “Celeste and Jesse Forever”), on the eve of Mavis’ birthday, stumbles upon Dracula’s secluded and luxurious hideaway hotel while backpacking through Europe.

Dracula is stuck between sneaking Jonathan away before the other ghoulish guests are alerted to his presence or opt to satisfy his daughter, who is already anxious to fly off into the real world with a human, by creating a ruse where Jonathan pretends to be a monster himself.

The film itself can be disjointed. At times it wants to pull punches on humor, all the while trying to establish its dramatic identity with Dracula wondering why he is afraid of the outside world. The shift in tone can be disorienting when jumping from fart jokes to themes of death, love and dubiously concealed politics about a world that won’t accept monsters if they “come out.” It then attempts to crowbar in some impromptu musical numbers that border on narcotic dullness. One thing no one has ever demanded to see was Sandler attempting to rap in the voice of Bobby Boucher (Sandler’s character from “The Waterboy”).

Tartakovsky manages to insert personal touches from his TV career into the character designs: from the way Dracula’s bipolar personality resembles HIM from “Powerpuff Girls,” to the many wry smiles and smash cut punch lines that appear throughout “Hotel Transylvania,” including cartoon versions of the characters during the credits.

These kinds of animated films are designed to attract heavyweight talent. The voice actors co-opted in this movie include Cee Lo Green as The Mummy (who bears a strikingly suspicious resemblance to Oogie Boogie from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”), Steve Bucemi (“Rampart”) as The Wolfman, Kevin James (“Zookeeper”) as Frankenstein, Fran Drescher (“The Nanny”) as Frankenstein’s intolerable wife and David Spade (“Jack and Jill”) as the Invisible Man.

“Hotel Transylvania” does not match the nimble cleverness of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” nor does it pull off its ambitious Pixar-esque leaps of narrative weight. It all makes the viewer wonder what would have happened had the animators taken inspiration from the art accompanying the end credits; would we be talking about a different film altogether?

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