This is a year where quite a few of the animated films designed for consumption by children have taken cues from the horror genre, the films: ParaNorman, Frankenweenie, and, of course, Hotel Transylvania. Hotel Transylvania transplants the monsters from the old Universal Horror series of films (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, etc.) to the modern age, throws in a resort run by Count Dracula meant to be a haven from us vile humans, and an adolescent vamp ripe for her first love. The voice-cast is chock full of names including, but not limited to, Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Cee Lo Green, Jon Lovitz, and Fran Drescher. Genndy Tartakovsky directed and Sony Pictures Animation produced the inoffensive Hotel Transylvania.
Count Dracula (Sandler) is your typical single dad, he hopes for his daughter to grow up happy and hopes that she never leaves the safe, secure home he has constructed for her. Mavis Dracula (Gomez), his adolescent daughter, is about to turn 118 and reach adulthood and she wants for nothing more than to be happy and leave the safe, secure home he has constructed for her. This home: Hotel Transylvania. The hotel is a resort destination for all sorts of ghouls and monstrosities, where they can seek refuge from the cruelty the humans will inflict upon them if their existence is discovered.
The hotel is filled to the brim with monsters for Mavis’ annual birthday party, including Dracula’s close friends Frankenstein (James), Wayne, the Werewolf (Buscemi), Murray, the Mummy (Green), and Griffin, the Invisible Man (Spade). But all his party planning and helicopter parenting may be all for naught when Johnny, a twenty-one year old human (Gasp!), shows up at the door with a stuffed backpack and a free-spirit that resonates strongly with Mavis. As Dracula seeks to hide Johnny’s human nature from his guests, he may find himself opening up to the world that spurned him and to finally become willing to let his daughter grow up.
The animation looks fantastic in this film, and while the action onscreen is frequently busy, it is never confusing, which is a rather impressive feat considering that there are frequently dozens of different characters onscreen at once, most of whom are of a different species or subset of monster. The character designs in Hotel Transylvania tend towards the more exaggerated, but it works well enough, and what is transpiring onscreen is sure to please the younger audience members viewing this movie.
While this film is definitely technically proficient, it lacks in terms of story and characterization. As is the case with a good number of films, primarily those marketed at children, the story beats are all obvious from a mile away. That isn’t so much the problem, as is the execution of said story beats in Hotel Transylvania. The story in the film is cute, maybe even clever, but the script doesn’t mine any of the potential for anything other than the shallowest of interpretations of its premise.
There are only three real characters in this film, and a bunch of celebrity voices who comment on the goings on of the Hotel Transylvania. Count Dracula is the only character with a real arc, coming to accept humans as not just being the roving bands of people brandishing torches and pitchforks, through his interactions with Johnny. Johnny and Mavis’ development essentially consists of them being the same at the beginning as they are at the end, accept for being, you know, in love. Hotel Transylvania is another one of those films that espouses the idea that if love isn’t instantaneous, it isn’t valid. For any of you out there who doubt that twelve or so hours is enough for a young adult to know if they want to be with someone forever and ever (it should be most of you), you may groan at this predictable development. I most certainly did.
Like so many animated films, the climax of Hotel Transylvania takes the form of an extended chase sequence. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this particular scene in which Dracula, Frankenstein, and friends run through a crowded village, has one of the most cringe-inducing, it is so sweet, plot developments I have ever seen. This is a film about what goes bump in the night, or what they do in their spare time, and it bothers me to see such dark material, or material that should be, turn into a “let’s all be friends” without any issues whatsoever affair. This type of dark material was handled more maturely, and better, in this year’s ParaNorman and Frankenweenie.
The voice cast is competent, but it is filled with so many celebrities it becomes distracting at times. The lead trio of voice actors do their jobs well, but the remainder of the cast can’t help but to seem like the stunt-casting that they so obviously are. For example, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Cee Lo Green, and David Spade seem like they are only voicing characters in the film to provide “hey, that’s _______” moments for the parents watching in the audience with their children.
Hotel Transylvania is a good movie for children. The animation is excellent and the monsters are vibrant and amusing, but the story is thin and devolves into an extended chase sequence near the ending. This film is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it’s probably even Adam Sandler’s best movie in years (that is kind of sad), and it managed to deliver on everything that it promises, but it promised so very little.