Hotel Transylvania is an unrestrained, unabashed kids movie. Even with all the classic monsters involved, director Genndy Tartakovsky has no interest in joining this year’s ParaNorman in being unafraid to scare a few kids. Surprisingly, that happens to be Hotel Transylvania‘s most charming trait.
As the classic mythology goes, Dracula (Adam Sandler) runs a high-end, invisible hotel for all his fellow monster buddies, from “Frankenstein” to the invisible man. It’s not exactly a business venture, though, as it was mainly created to keep his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), safe from the world of humans. Now, turning 118 years old, Mavis is coming of age and wants to explore the world, and Dracula will do everything he can to make sure that doesn’t happen. With all the talk of humans, it’s no surprise one of them, Jonathan (Andy Samberg), actually turns up to both drive Dracula mad and fall in love with his daughter.
Even by reading that simple plot description, it’s obvious Tartakovsky’s monster-oriented monster movie is another sappy father-daughter relationship story. We’ve seen it before plenty of times in animation, and Hotel Transylvania, with the exception of having monsters involved, doesn’t do much work to stand apart from the rest of the herd. Still, even under the generic circumstances, Tartakovsky injects enough enthusiasm it entertaining.
How does he do it? By, along with screenwriters Robert Smigel and Peter Baynham, throwing a hundred jokes at the wall in every scene to see what sticks. Of course with that comedic approach not everything lands. When a gag doesn’t hit, Hotel Transylvania inevitably bounces back with a sharp joke we’d expect from his terrific career at Cartoon Network.
Much of the humor comes from the physical side of things, rather than a bunch of cliche monster-related jokes, which are actually funnier than one would expect from a relatively tame kid’s movie. The designs, especially the downright creepiness of Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), earn laughs. That animation is where Tartakovsky’s voice shines through the most. All the character designs are playful, colorful, and evocative of their classic roots.
The idea of Adam Sandler voicing Dracula isn’t something most of us would ever think could be charming. To much surprise, Sandler manages to make the few hundred year old vampire an incredibly fun presence, loud accent and all. After the first few minutes of Hotel Transylvania, the cynical thought of, “Oh, it’s Adam Sandler and his friends having fun and getting paid,” disappears. Sandler, Lovitz, David Spade, Kevin James, and more, namely CeeLo Green of all people, turn in lively voice performances.
When Hotel Transylvania isn’t moving on a few too many comedic tangents, Tartakovsky handles all the father-daughter fluff with enough care. The relationship, like the film itself, hits all the beats we expect in a quick, if slight, satisfying fashion.
The Upside: The character designs; more jokes hit the mark than miss; Adam Sandler as Dracula is better than the casting news suggested; the father-daughter fluff works; CeeLo Green as Murray the mummy.
The Downside: This is another animated movie where all the characters break out into song at the end; a few gags aren’t as clever as others; the humans in the third act.
On the Side: Frankenstein’s monster is called “Frankenstein” in the movie.