Hotel Transylvania invites you to check it, if only it can work out exactly who you are.
In just a few short years, Sony Pictures Animation has gone a long way towards being a legitimate competitor for DreamWorks and Disney/Pixar. While the fun but uninspiring Open Season (2006) put them on the map, it was Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) that made them a real success story. With Hotel Transylvania, Sony scores another coup by acquiring the talents of Russian-American animator Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of such Cartoon Network hits as Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and the original Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series. While this feature debut contains the madcap energy of his previous outings, it also lacks the cohesiveness required for a full-length film.
Haunted by his past encounters with humans, Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) has built a resort for monsters who want to relax without any worry of human persecution. Fuelling the fire of their fear, Dracula keeps his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) as a virtual shut-in, despite promises of liberation on her 118th birthday, spooking her further with false depictions of the outside world. However, things change radically when clueless human backpacker Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles into the hotel, threatening to undo Dracula’s carefully constructed reality. Breathing new life into Drac’s drab decor, can he hold up a mirror to someone who doesn’t cast a reflection?
Much of the creative team behind Hotel Transylvania, from co-writer Robert Smigel to a number of the cast, are current or former Saturday Night Live alumni. Like the last few decades of SNL, large parts of the film are simply a sketch that doesn’t know where to stop, with a healthy chunk of the middle section dedicated to mostly running around, hiding and musical sequences. The confusion extends to the intended audience as well. It was Walt Disney who once said “You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway”. Yet Tartakovsky’s film makes the almost fatal flaw of trying to be all things to all people, and lands in the awkward middle.
Often too silly for children, and definitely too frightening for the younger children, Hotel Transylvania is like many Sandler films: an extended version of an inside joke. Yet there is also much to like about the movie, particularly the character designs and voices. The downtrodden wolfman Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and his wife Wanda (Molly Shannon) are sufficiently exasperated with their countless children, providing a number of visual and audio gags throughout the film. Likewise, Kevin James nails Frankenstein as a not-too-bright guy who is still afraid of flames (“Fire bad!”). Gomez is suitably earnest as Mavis, only a few shades away from her Wizards of Waverly Place persona, but at least provides a recognisable voice for a key demographic.
Some beautiful animation can be found in the macabre mixture of gelatinous goop, monolithic monsters and dripping fangs, and there is little doubt that the technical craft behind Hotel Transylvania is at the top of its game. However, propping up a potentially intriguing story is a textbook example of stunt casting, designed to throw as many names on a marquee as possible (even Cee Lo Green!), rather than simply getting the story right. It’s not that the film isn’t frequently fun, it’s just that it isn’t fun consistently. By the time the end musical number rolls around, it’s clear that the film tried to be all things to everybody, but mastered none.
Hotel Transylvania was released in Australia on 20 September 2012 from Sony.