Released: October 12th 2012 (UK)
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James
Reviewer: Philip Price
It’s hard to sometimes put a finger on how one can gauge an Adam Sandler production. This is especially true when it comes to the comedian pushing out children’s movies rather than his standard PG-13 fare. You hate to bash the guy because he genuinely seems invested in putting out fun, enjoyable films for parents to take their young ones to. It is clear his current life situation inclines him to know what youngsters might want to see in a film (he has a four and a six year old) and despite his current lack of both critical and commercial success he still has the clout to concoct pretty much anything he would like. Thus, we have a cute if not predictable movie that follows the pattern of pretty much any Sandler movie where we learn generic lessons of love and life. There is nothing really wrong with what the guy is doing and I wonder if there is even a point in complaining anymore and so I wiped Jack & Jill from my mind and walked into Hotel Transylvania with a renewed sense of hope and trust in Sandler and his gang that provide the voice work here. While that trust didn’t extend to giving the comedian more credit than he is due it should also be taken into consideration that this film will be overshadowed as one of three Halloween-inspired kid flicks this year. This was the biggest deterrent for the feature as having just witnessed Paranorman and its fantastical quirks I was hoping this more light-hearted fare might provide some wonderfully clever bits while subliminally teaching the tykes of today that discrimination and bullying aren’t cool. Rest assured, there are some creative and inspired sequences here while the story focuses more on the father/daughter relationship, but what is truly refreshing is that I didn’t come out of a Sandler produced film having cringed multiple times throughout. I’ll take it.
We begin with a re-introduction to the famous Count Dracula who we see as the curtain’s pulled back is a Dad who cares above all for his brand new baby girl, Mavis. We get no explanation of where Mom is but we can guess as is typical with animated films that something tragic has happened and it will greatly affect the relationship of the father and daughter. Whatever happened to the Count’s precious wife it has made him decide to build a place where no humans will ever find him or his daughter and will also provide a place of refuge for fellow monsters who just need a few days off. Naturally, this safe haven ends up being the title of our film and all things accounted for, its a pretty good premise. I know it’s hard to give Sandler any ounce of credit and he likely doesn’t deserve much in coming up with the story for this thing as it was written by Peter Baynham who had a hand in last years wonderful Arthur Christmas and Robert Smigel who is known for the animated TV Funhouse shorts that were an SNL staple a few years ago. Still, it is Sandler’s gang that likely got this thing to the big screen and provide the voices for the array of monsters that show up for Mavis’s 118th birthday. This is an annual event at the hotel, but this year is something special as Mavis (innocently and sweetly brought to life by Selena Gomez) wants to know what lies outside the castle walls. It is her time to discover her own self. The arrival of guests such as her Uncle Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his wife Eunice (Fran Drescher), the Big Bad Wolf who is here known as Wayne (Steve Buscemi) his wife Wanda (Molly Shannon) and their litter of little ones, as well as Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade) and Murray the Mummy (Cee Lo Green) likely don’t help in easing the stress of always having to please her father and meet his expectations. Mavis gets her taste of the outside world when a free-spirited adolescent kid named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) happens upon her dads hotel and they share an instant connection.
Naturally, there is tension here as Dracula feels the pressure to hide the fact a human has made it into the hotel while keeping a good relationship with his daughter which he has already damaged by not telling her the truth one too many times. While the story plays out in exactly the fashion you know it will the screening I attended had plenty of young children enjoying themselves and laughing continuously at the creative little quips that are thrown in. This little facet is truly what saves Hotel Transylvania from disappearing quicker than it might have into the onslaught of family films hitting the cineplexes this fall. While it realizes its own simple premise and the fact they are conveying a universal message with monsters in place of people it is still nothing but good fun watching as these guys play up the exaggerated characteristics of each of these classic characters (especially Sandler as our protagonist Dracula). Whether it be the little skulls giving bingo numbers, the alarm clocks or do not disturb sign substitutes in the hotel, even the personalities assigned to the characters are funny if not a little expected. The real relief from the typical here though is the voice work of Andy Samberg. Love him or hate him in his second Sandler collaboration this year he livens up the movie as his character does the party going down at the hotel. Playing what was likely himself a few years back his character Jonathan is a youthful guy probably taking that year off between high school and college to travel the world for no specific reason other than to travel. Samberg plays the goofball with such an aloof sense of wonderment and privilege as he gets to visit a sweet castle filled with what looks to be the best costume party ever. There are a few scenes including Jonathan disguised as a Frankenstein that are designed to display the character arc of Dracula that do almost give off that classic childhood scene vibe that kids seeing it now will reference when they get older and reflect on this long forgotten film they will probably re-watch every October for the next few years. If that is any indication, its clear the film has something going for it.
In writing a review for any film involving Adam Sandler lately it feels one has to be on the extreme defensive if they indicate anything at all about it might be remotely enjoyable. This was the case going through the process of putting my thoughts down here, but I can honestly say that despite the cliches and standard quality of the overall story and even the character design and animation I had a fun enough time watching the movie to recommend it. Of course, it will appeal much more to an audience who haven’t seen this story play out before (and likely in much better form) but it is the imaginative ways in which these monsters have been integrated into the casual day-to-day life that reflects our own proving that despite their evil-looking exterior they are just people as well; this allows the kids in the audience a way to kind of brave their fears of monsters while the film is smart enough to not go for genuine scares but instead to laugh at how silly it is to be scared of these characters. The movie especially gets going as the monsters exit their comfort zone after their leader experiences his epiphany and we actually get a chance to see the entire parade of monsters leap into action for the first time as the majority of the running time is dedicated to the Mavis/Dad/Jonathan storylines. While I was hoping for a bit more of the ensemble feel throughout It’s hard to be that upset over an animated movie you weren’t exactly holding out high hopes for in the first place. In this regard Hotel Transylvania succeeds in surpassing my expectations and it will probably yours as well.