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Review: Hotel Transylvania (2012)

Hotel Transylvania (2012)

Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky

Premise: An animated film.  In modern day Transylvania, Dracula (voice of Adam Sandler) operates a secret resort where the world’s monsters gather in safety, away from the threat of human beings. Dracula’s daughter (voice of Selena Gomez) falls for a young man, setting Dracula into overprotective-father mode.

What Works: Hotel Transylvania is not an ambitious movie but the filmmakers do succeed in their goal of making a family friendly picture. This is not really a horror film but a family comedy populated with characters from horror pictures and folk lore; Hotel Transylvania is more like the television show The Munsters than Tim Burton animated pictures like Corpse Bride. Family movies tend to aim for an overlap between adult and child-oriented content; Hotel Transylvania leans much more toward its childish viewers but it is entertaining enough to satisfy mature audiences. The film primarily deals with the relationship between Dracula and his daughter Mavis and the two of them have a credible, if predictable, father-daughter conflict. She is a naïve young adult who wants to explore the world and he wants to protect her from the dangers outside the home. It is familiar territory for a parent-child story and there is nothing here that is particularly innovative but the story is done well enough that it’s entertaining. It helps that the characters of Hotel Transylvania are vivid. The Dracula of this film has more complex reasons for his paranoia than just his paternal status and Mavis’ desire for adventure is rooted deeper than her age or her role in the story. The young male traveler who crashes the hotel (voice of Adam Samberg) bonds well with both Dracula and Mavis and the story navigates him into an interesting point of conflict between the two characters. The supporting cast members are also a lot of fun and the filmmakers make some clever choices with these characters such as a werewolf couple (voices of Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon) that has a pack of unruly pups. Hotel Transylvania manages to be a lot of fun and it is told with tremendous speed. There are a lot of in-jokes in the backgrounds of the scenes and other moments in which the filmmakers play on horror tropes. Not all the laughs of Hotel Transylvania are big but the film is so fast, jumping from one gag to the next, that the cumulative effect keeps the viewer’s attention. The picture maintains a manic level of energy that makes it the kind of movie that kids will love.

What Doesn’t: Hotel Transylvania is fundamentally a children’s film like Madagascar or Despicable Me. There is nothing wrong with that but the movie is so hyper with characters zigzagging all over the screen that at times it becomes overwhelming and obnoxious.  Like many children’s films there is very little to it. Hotel Transylvania sets up Dracula and Mavis for something dramatic to happen but in the ending the filmmakers go another way with their story, diffusing the tension and dumbing down the movie, reducing it to ninety minutes of fluff. The picture makes for an interesting contrast with ParaNorman, released earlier this year. Where the crew behind that film transcended the parameters of a family film, the makers of Hotel Transylvania remain dutifully within those borders and run from any possibility of complexity.

Bottom Line: Hotel Transylvania is a sufficient family feature. It’s no classic but it is satisfying enough that parents ought to enjoy watching it with their kids around Halloween.

Episode: #409 (October 14, 2012)