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Monster comedy, mostly for the kids, but fast-paced & funny enough to keep everyone entertained
on October 2, 2012
Hotel Transylvania, directed by Genndy Tartakovsky from a screenplay by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel, is an animated comedy/horror-spoof, mostly for the kids but fast-paced enough and with enough humor to keep everyone entertained for an hour and a half. It's not as smartly written as 2010's Megamind or as sophisticated and dazzling as 2011's Rango, but it is fun to watch and satisfying in a popcorn-movie kind of way. Adult fans of old horror films will like spotting some of the more obscure monsters (Brain From Planet Arous anyone?) and picking up on some references that will sail over the head of younger viewers.
The plot begins in 1895 where we find a very paternal Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) looking after his infant daughter not long after the death of his wife. Determined to keep her safe from "the humans", Dracula comes up with an idea - to create a sanctuary, a place where monsters of all kinds can come to relax and be themselves without having to constantly worry about humanity coming after them with torches and pitchforks. He directs his servants to convert an old medieval castle hidden deep in the remotest part of Transylvania into a resort/retreat for monsters from all over the world, and voila! - the Hotel Transylvania is born. The hotel is staffed, appropriately, by zombie bellhops, haunted suits of armor, housekeeping witches and talking shrunken heads, with a kitchen overseen by an obsessed lunatic chef Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz) and his pet rat Esmeralda.
Of course the years seem to fly by for a parent, even an immortal one, and before Dracula knows it suddenly it's 2012 and the day of Mavis's 118th birthday (that's 18 in human-growth years). The castle is filled with guests, many of them old friends of the family who've come especially for the occasion, including a very domestic Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his high-bouffant wife Eunice (Fran Drescher), a life-of-the-party mummy named Murray (CeeLo Green), a very frazzled werewolf named Wayne (Steve Buscemi in superb form), his highly-pregnant wife Wanda (Molly Shannon) and their pack of snarling hyper-active wolf kids, and Griffin, the Invisible Man (David Spade) who can't understand why he sucks at playing charades.
But this is also a day Dracula has dreaded as he promised Mavis (Selena Gomez) that on the day she turned 118, she had his permission to go out into the world. Compelled to keep his word but unable to face the prospect of Mavis going off into what he feels is a world too dangerous for her, he concocts a scheme to scare her into wanting to stay at the castle. Which works, somewhat to his surprise. But his scheme turns out to have unintended consequences and before Dracula has time to feel relieved, the unthinkable happens - a _human_ suddenly appears at the hotel, a young backpacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) who "heard about this cool old castle" and wanted to check it out. Panicking, and fearing for the reputation of his hotel if it were found out that a human was on the premises, Dracula quickly disguises Jonathan as "Johnny-stein", a supposed cousin of Frankenstein (actually just a cousin of Frankenstein's right hand, as it were). But before Dracula can get Jonathan out of the castle and out of his hair, Mavis and Jonathan meet and "zing!" it's love at first sight. The rest of the plot is rather predictable - over-protective father wants to keep boy away from his daughter, but daughter and boy keep seeing each other - but the pacing is kept fast enough and the humor abundant enough that it keeps things fresh and funny all the way through. Particularly in scenes where Johnny's fun-loving nature livens things up by inadvertently starting a horses-and-riders pool fight, introducing some new music over the grumbling protests of zombie-Beethoven, zombie-Mozart & zombie-Bach, and engages Dracula in a floating-table race, causing the stiff and stuffy Count to unexpectedly rediscover what fun is.
The animation, while not ground-breaking, is well done, with a lot of attention to detail which gives the film a level of texture you wouldn't ordinarily expect in a light comedy. For example, at one point Mavis leads Johnny into a cave, the entrance to which some horror aficionados will recognize is shaped like the face of the Phantom of the Opera. While Genndy Tartakovsky is well known for his work producing several successful TV animated series (Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack, The Grimm Adventures of Billy & Mandy, The Powerpuff Girls and Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Hotel Transylvania is his first feature film. Fans of Tartakovsky 's TV work might be expecting something more in the distinctive style he used in those shows, but I don't think they'll be disappointed with his choice to be more traditional here. The production design was done by Marcelo Vignali, who worked on several Disney films including Mulan and Lilo & Stich as well as Cloudy With Chance Of Meatballs, and the art direction was done by Ron Lukas and Noelle Triaureau, both of whom also worked with Vignali on 2007's Surf's Up.
The voice cast is excellent. Adam Sandler, whom I don't usually care for as a rule, is actually quite good as the over-protective fatherly Dracula. Andy Samberg brings out Johnny's guileless but ever-upbeat goofiness in a very winning way, while Selena Gomez brings the perfect touch as Mavis, the teenage vampire cutie who loves her dad and all his old weird friends but just wants to get out there and see the world she's only heard stories about. Kevin James does an affable Frankenstein, and Fran Drescher is perfect as his loud and brassy Franken-wife, Eunice. CeeLo Green's Murray is the liveliest and hippest mummy you've ever heard. As always though, it's Steve Buscemi who gets the best lines (or who makes his lines the best ones by his inimitably wry delivery) as the much put-upon buttoned-down-shirt-and-tie-wearing werewolf Wayne. One of my favorite scenes is where Dracula, Frank and Wayne are trying to track down Johnny. Dracula wants Wayne to follow his scent, and Wayne can only sigh wearily and ask "Do you have _any_ idea what years of changing poopy diapers have done to this nose?"
Recommended as a fun enjoyable film for everyone and in particular for classic horror-film fans.