I’m a big fan of Genndy Tartakovsky’s work on “Samurai Jack,” “Sym-Bionic Titan,” and the unsurpassed “Star Wars: Clone Wars” shorts, so I was eager to see how he would fare as a director of a computer-animated film. As it turns out, his monsters have more bark than bite.
The problem with “Hotel Transylvania” isn’t the animation (which is solid), the voice acting (which is amusing), or even the characters (which dutifully recall the monsters of yesteryear). It’s the entire premise for a family film: (one-hundred and-) 18-year-old daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) wants to see the world but her father Dracula (Adam Sandler) is terrified of humanity after his wife was killed by an angry human mob. Humans in this world are the real monsters – you know, like “Monsters, Inc.” only with more traditional critters from horror movie canon.
In honor of Mavis’ upcoming birthday, all the family friends have been invited: Frankenstein’s Monster (Kevin James) and his bride (Fran Drescher); a chubby mummy that’s obviously based on the oft auto-tuned voice of Cee Lo Green; harried werewolf parents Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (Molly Shanon); Griffin the invisible man (David Spade); and a litany of blink-and-you’ll-miss it monster cameos. Drac decides to manipulate his daughter into staying at the hotel by terrifying her with an elaborate deception. Then clueless traveling human hipster Johnny (Adam Sandberg) stumbles into the castle and suddenly Mavis’ world is upended by evidence that humanity may not be that bad after all.
The plot bumps along unevenly. Never mind that nearly every single main character was arguably human at one point – Frankenstein’s Monster is made of humans (a running joke to explain how Johnny, disguised as another Monster, is distantly related), Dracula was human, the werewolves are presumably human some of the time, Griffin is still human, the mummy was…you get the idea. Quasimodo is the chief antagonist (Jon Lovitz), but last I checked he was human too.
The plot pivots on the “zing” – love at first sight, basically – but that concept is introduced before the big reveal of a gift from Mavis’ mother that only reinforces what we knew all along about “zinging.” The idea that my little girl might fall in love with the first man she meets also rubs me the wrong way…Mavis can’t just explore the world on her own, she has to fall in love with a man (sparing her father the horror of dating!) so she transitions from protective father figure to protective boyfriend.
There’s evidence of severe rewrites all over this script – since it’s been in development since 2006 perhaps this is not surprising. It all culminates in a series of reveals and betrayals, which are resolved by our protagonists going on a road trip to reunite the two wayward souls. Or at least it seems that way, until you realize that none of the supporting characters actually do anything at all.
“Hotel Transylvania” regularly flirts with the difficult realities of monsters – at one point, Drac says, “I can’t kill him, it would set monsters back hundreds of years.” But this is a PG flick, so even the notion of vampirism isn’t considered, which is a shame. It’s probably the only way Mavis and Johnny will ever truly be together.
Despite my qualms about the plot, this is a light-hearted love note to fans of monster movies and…their daughters. “Hotel Transylvania” hopes you fondly recall the horror movies of the past but not too much lest you remember that even vampires have to eat. It’s basically a paranormal romance disguised as a kid’s movie.
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