What It Is
Mavis (Selena Gomez) is a vampire. She wears black miniskirts and crawls on the walls, hangs upside down, and has cute little fangs that she doesn’t use to suck anyone’s blood (she drinks synthetic, as it’s safer). And she’s spent all her young life in the castle her father, Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) turned into a hotel for monsters back in 1895. Now that she’s turning 118 years old — a mere teenager in vampire years — she’s yearning to see the world outside and meet some people beyond her father’s circle of friends/hotel guests. It’s true, these friends are loving and protective: from Wayne the wolfman (Steve Buscemi) and Murray the mummy (CeeLo Green) to the Invisible Man (David Spade) and Frank the Frankenstein Monster (Kevin James), they all want to see Mavis happy and fulfilled. But even they can see that maybe Drac is a little over-protective, and it’s time for the lovely Mavis to spread her bat wings and venture forth.
And so, Hotel Transylvania begins with a familiar generational tension, complicated by the fact that the monsters have spent so many decades avoiding humans that they only barely remember them, carrying pitchforks and burning down monsters’ homes. They can’t know how times have changed... until a human arrives on their doorstep, just in time for Mavis’ birthday party.
Even then, when 21-year-old Jonathan (Andy Samberg) bumbles in with his backpack and disdain for legends concerning supernatural creatures, they can’t now, for Drac takes it upon himself to keep Jonathan’s identity a secret. Afraid that the truth might upset his party plans (and embolden Mavis to leave the hotel confines), Drac convinces Jonathan to pose as a Frankenstein cousin, related to the original owner of Frank’s left arm. But Drac can’t keep his darling daughter from falling in love with the boy she thinks is a fellow monster.
Thus, the hijinks begin, as the movie spins into a manic series of pratfalls and band rehearsals, games with flying tables and narrow escapes from the hotel chef, Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), who wants to cook Jonathan in a pot. When the monsters finally leave the hotel in pursuit of a runaway Mavis, they’re shocked to find something like an outdoors Comic Con, with humans in monster costumes and makeup, all quite in love with the very idea of misfits and monstrosities. And with that, all deceptions are sorted and mistakes forgiven.
Why It’s Fun
Mavis is charming and familiar, the teenager who only wants to be trusted. And her interactions with her extended family of monsters might remind you of any number of other movies where the central girl or boy is surrounded by adoring aunts and uncles, each assigned a signal characteristic: that said, it’s not every uncle who’s invisible or is an actual Big Foot, or a human-fly hybrid.
The monsters are fun to spot, as the hotel lobby is crowded with blobs, ghosts, giant reptiles, spiders, aliens, hydras, and fleas.
Who’s Going To Love It
Kids might be briefly entertained by the early onslaught of monsters, but the plot concerning the over-anxious father is soon tedious, especially as Sandler repeats the corny Dracula voice he’s been doing since his Saturday Night Live days.
The film is mostly loud and repetitive, with disconnected set pieces and a predictable story. Such banality is too bad, given director Genndy Tartakovsky’s work for Cartoon Network, which has been quite wonderful, including Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls.
Viewers feeling ready for the Twilight franchise to be over already might get a kick out of Drac’s response to an airing of the film on TV: one look at Edward’s golden glow in close-up, and he grimaces: “This is how they represent us?!”
Drac has a similar reaction to Jonathan’s choice of iPod music. When he hears the so-overplayed “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO, he falls back and clutches his chest: “It’s taking my soul!”
What To Be Aware Of
Per too many animated fantasies: no mom. While Frank has a Mrs. Frank (Fran Drescher) and Wayne has a very pregnant missus with him (along with their many cubs), Drac’s wife/Mavis’ mom has been dead many years, a reason for his fearfulness and anger. Still, it kind of reminds you why Brave seems like such a revelation.
The film raises a few interesting questions in the form of themes. These are mostly obvious, like kids should not be afraid of people who look different than they do. At one point, Jonathan informs Drac that the monsters’ inclination to kill all humans just because they’re human is “kind of racist.” Kids should also appreciate their parents’ efforts, even if they do seem overbearing. And oh yes, kids should not be afraid of true love, a feeling that Drac refers to as “zing!”
Frankenstein is given to farting, which sets him up for a joke where he’s scared of fire (actually, the “Fire bad!” joke is trotted out a few times, with decreasing effectiveness).
The shrunken head (Luenell) who hangs on Mavis’ bedroom doorknob serves as a kind of mammy figure, tsk-tsking and scolding Drac for not trusting her. (The stereotype is limited by her essential configuration; she can’t roll her eyes, which are missing, or her neck, also missing).
4 out of 10
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Cast: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Andy Samberg, Steve Buscemi, CeeLo Green, David Spade
Studio: Columbia Pictures
US General Release: September 28, 2012
UK General Release: October 12, 2012