In a groundbreaking (and diverse) age of animation where Disney is no longer the sole juggernaut, competing houses Pixar, DreamWorks, Aardman, Laika and Studio Ghibli (and to a lesser extent Fox’s Blue Sky Studios) continually offer audiences compelling fare that often break any preconceived notions that this overarching genre is simply for children.
Struggling to find its foothold in the industry as DreamWorks once did is Sony Pictures Animation, purveyor of fare including Open Season and The Smurfs – an entity which seems decidedly stuck in the past. Offering up slapstick-laden fluff of the lowest common denominator, the products flowing from this studio (even at their most comforting and brisk) are insubstantial and almost always offer nothing but a fleeting diversion.
Hotel Transylvania is a chief offender when it comes to all the issues plaguing mainstream animation today and in a number of ways seems like a significant step back from the frisky energy boasted from 2009’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. At the very least that well-received film had the audacity to adapt a tricky children’s novel, whereas this Adam Sandler-led vehicle seems as archaic as the gloomy manor in which this film is set.
However, not to be a complete ogre (a creature which ironically does not make an appearance amongst the mummies, gremlins and more famous monsters and ghouls), Hotel Transylvania does not even seem to be reaching for anything beyond mediocrity and seems simply intent on pleasing a young audience for 90 minutes – a basic merit I cannot entirely dismiss.
Hotel Transylvania is not offensively bland and frankly, the easy-going nature of the production is likely to please its target demographic while keeping accompanying parents rooted in their seats (this is no “Oogieloves,” or so I can surmise).
Sidestepping the inconsequential nature of Hotel Transylvania’s execution, a significant failing of the film comes via the misleading trailers which essentially play out as a bait and switch. The promotional material promises a comedy of errors whereby a human stumbles upon a retreat for the fantastical. Hilarity would hopefully ensure as Adam Sandler’s Dracula tries to hide the true nature of his abode (and its many odd residents).
However, that portion of the film plays out almost immediately and what we’re left with is the well-worn overprotective parent story as the hotel’s newcomer falls for the famed vamp’s daughter, Mavis. Adding a level of creepiness to the whole ordeal (and I don’t mean of the horror variety) is that Mavis is 118 years old and is essentially being kept in solitude by her father. Freud, eat your heart out.
That central plot thread of Hotel Transylvania is hopelessly clichéd and so overdone it adds yet another layer of dust to this proverbial dinosaur of a movie. One could name a few dozen films in a matter of seconds that utilize that trope as its driving comedic force and alas it’s not even the first animated flick of the year to do so. Pixar’s Brave also employed the overbearing (at points literally “over-bearing”) parent shtick and unsurprisingly it turned out to be one of the weakest and most insubstantial entries in the studio’s canon. Hotel Transylvania with its simplified animation, less successful humor and weaker voice cast is another step down on that disappointment.
With the aforementioned voice cast, an impressive line-up has nevertheless been assembled. Sandler is the classical Transylvanian blood-sucker – velcome! – Selena Gomez his daughter and the guests attending her birthday include Andy Samberg (as the human presence) Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Rob Riggle, Fran Drescher and Cee lo Green. Samberg is among the funnier of the bunch and nobody does Buscemi quite like Buscemi, but regardless of the talent on hand, there is not a memorable performance between them. Nobody is offensively awful but when the material isn’t failing them…ok the material fails them.
Bah, but enough with the hate as this is not in fact a scathing review and as a whole Hotel Transylvania does not make the damning sin of being boring, it certainly proves Sandler is capable of starring in a movie not of the atrocious variety. There are a number of jokes in David I. Stern’s screenplay that hit home (even when you can see them coming) and there is something charming about seeing all these creatures share the screen in a cheery monster mash-up. It’s like a more comedic The Expendables done via The Brothers Grimm.
When all is said and done, Hotel Transylvania is inoffensive fluff that will be better served in a home video capacity than it ever will on the big screen. There is simply no “must see” element to this film. A little too noisy and a lot too bland, Sandler and co. should be able to please nearly every child in the audience but will never have the power to pull the child out of an older crowd.