Mayhap it comes from the wellspring of low expectations I had for it, but I was flabbergasted to find that Hotel Transylvania is actually a pretty darn fun movie.
I had some hopes for it due to the fact that Genndy Tartakovsky, the Cartoon Network mastermind behind such favorites as Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Lab, was the director. But then I looked at the cast list.
Adam Sandler as Count Dracula? Kevin James? David Spade? Andy Samberg? Vibrations of such fare as “Grown-Ups” came to mind and caused shudders. Even going back farther, let’s not forget that Adam Sandler’s prior animated fare was the abysmal Eight Crazy Nights. I happen to like Cee-Lo Green as a singer (Gnarls Barkley, anyone?) but he hasn’t exactly done a ton of acting that I can think of off hand. And Selena Gomez is only known by name to me, being far outside her target demographic. I think you can understand my trepidations. Except for Steve Buscemi as a harried Wolfman, because, c’mon. It’s Steve Buscemi. You know he’s knocking that out of the park.
While the film certainly isn’t perfect and contains some stuff that feels like it was included upon insistence by executive committee (a tacked-on ending musical sequence involving a rapping Dracula, for example, is pretty much a nadir) the majority of its running time is a cartoony romp through Famous Monsters magazine. Visually, most of the designs are well done, though for some reason Frankenstein left me cold. No wonder the folks I know in animation were singing their praises for the film. It looks like it was a hundred times more fun to animate than your typical CGI feature. Character models are stretched to their limits, doing what can at times be classified as wild takes. Extremely rare for a CG cartoon, that. Certainly to the extent that they’re displayed here. It’s kinetic and manages to alternate well between high energy sequences and a few more emotional scenes.
Our story begins with a strangely benevolent Dracula building the eponymous hotel for his monster ilk, looking to keep them (and his newborn daughter) safe from the terror of humans. Like most children that are not allowed to grow and explore, said daughter, Mavis Dracula, wants nothing more than to escape to the bigger world and see what’s really out there. With her permanent eye-shadow and Chuck Jones-ian sneakers, she’s as cute a ball of goth sunshine as you could ever wish to see. Dracula’s attempts to keep her within the smothering confines of the hotel work until the arrival of a human. Johnny is… well, he’s somewhat annoying. And kind of an idiot. Let’s just get that out there. If this were not a PG feature, he would most likely be having drug-fueled conversations about how there’s a universe within a universe in the fingernail of his pinky. But since this does happen to be a family movie, instead we get stories of his backpacking around the world. No word on how much his parents are shelling out for that.
Anyway, as he stumbles in, Dracula ends up disguising him as a monster, “Johnnystein,” to keep him from scaring the guests away. What a twist! Mavis falls for Johnny. Johnny falls for Mavis. Wacky hijinx ensue.
The fun comes in the cartoony animation and in the gags, with the script being at least partially written by Late Night with Conan O’Brien fixture Robert Smigel. AKA: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. When the two are put together, it sometimes feels like a strange, old MGM cartoon. The kind in which the funniest jokes aren’t necessarily adult, but go well over the heads of the kids in the audience.
I don’t know if everyone will respond to it the way I did, but I feel it’s a solid triple for Tartakovsky and I eagerly look forward to whatever comes next from him.
(Three out of five stars)