From the moment details on Hotel Transylvania were first announced, to the day trailers became available, and up until the moment I actually saw the movie, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Films starring Adam Sandler typically are reviled by the majority of critics, and as a result, I’ve avoided most of his work. However, not only is this a much more family-friendly film, but the first theatrical feature directed by veteran animator Genndy Tartakovsky, who has created quality work for Cartoon Network in the past such as Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack. Even the trailers left me unsure what to expect – the first one left a bad impression on me, but the ones that came later made me chuckle. Thankfully, the final product is a fast-paced and often laugh-out-loud movie that I had a good time with, and though it isn’t up there with the best of Pixar or Dreamworks, it’s still a solid family film.
Taking place in modern-day Transylvania, it’s explained to us that Dracula (Sandler) has spent the last century of his life running a huge hotel made specifically for monsters to hide in and relax. The vampire holds a strong fear of humans since an unfortunate event in his past, and keeps both the hotel and his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) secluded from civilization. As the filim begins, Mavis is about to hit her 118th birthday (Her physical appearance is basically that of an 18-year-old), and is itching to get out of the house and see the world. Further adding problems for Dracula is the arrival of Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a goofy young traveler who becomes the first human to ever enter the hotel. Dracula quickly disguises Jonathan to resemble a long-lost relative of his friend and frequent patron Frankenstein (Kevin James), but it’s only a matter of time before this secret gets him into trouble. The fact that Jonathan forms a connection with Mavis doesn’t make things any easier.
The movie, surprisingly, doesn’t really have a villain. The closest it gets is head cook Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), who is the first to discover Jonathan’s true identity, but he’s taken out of the picture by the third act. Indeed, the movie’s more about a conflict than having an actual nefarious character, and it manages to pull this off. Tartakovsky’s experience really shows in the exaggerated and fluid animation, and the timing of jokes and dialogue. This is a very fast-paced and frenetic film, to the point where I think those who aren’t that into nice visuals might feel overwhelmed with how much happens in particular scenes. As someone who can be entertained by good design, though, I liked the overall look of the characters and castle.
It helps that the writing for the jokes is pretty solid. They come at a rapid-fire pace, but a good majority of them do manage to be funny. There are some that don’t work, such as a fart joke early on and a song at the end that felt a bit forced and abrupt, but there are so many that work that it’s pretty easy to forgive the occasional stumble. If there’s a downside to this approach, it’s that when the movie decides to momentarily get serious and emotional, it feels out of place. Better animated movies are able to continually weave their drama in and out throughout the whole film for better consistency, but here, it all feels concentrated into a single scene or two.
Hotel Transylvania isn’t receiving a particularly warm response from most critics, and I find that a little puzzling. While it’s hardly a classic, or even one of the best animated films to come out this year (I felt ParaNorman offered similar laughs, but had more heart to its story as well), it’s a good way to spend a day at the movies if you have kids who want to see something, but want to be able to laugh yourself.