Growing up, all children are told they should be afraid of monsters. Halloween events in Toronto like Screemers, Halloween Haunt and Powerhouse of Terror help cement this fear. Monsters are evil, scary looking and will probably eat you. But how many take a moment to wonder how the monsters feel about humans? They’ve faced centuries of persecution, been chased with pitch forks from their homes and murdered indiscriminately. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn then that they’re equally frightened of us. Thus, they seek safe havens where they can move freely without the fear of discovery. “Hotel Transylvania” is such a place.
Dracula (Adam Sandler) doted on his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) from the day she was born. He sang her lullabies, tucked her in at daybreak, and taught her to transform into a bat and fly. But his greatest gift to her and his late wife was a fortified castle, hidden deep in the haunted woods, protected by a zombie graveyard where no human would ever find them. But now that Mavis is 118, she wants to explore the human world. Hoping to distract her, Dracula plans the “bestest, specialist” birthday bash with all their monster friends and relatives, including Frankenstein (Kevin James), the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), Mummy (CeeLo Green) and Invisible Man (David Spade). But the reputation of his human-free sanctuary is jeopardized when a backpacker (Andy Samberg) stumbles through the doors.
There is a lot that works in this film. Surprisingly the 3D is one of these elements. The picture is never flat, creating dynamic backgrounds against which the characters fly, talk and interact. Even the end credits are populated with fun 3D animations. Another technical element that is a success is the soundtrack. Many of the songs were written specifically for the picture, but remain in line with popular radio hits.
The story is a little hit-and-miss. The monster narrative is very enjoyable. Old – very old – friends, they joke with each other and rely on one another. Frank is constantly falling apart and his bride is a nag (Fran Drescher). The Wolfman’s wife (Molly Shannon) is pregnant with another litter, but he can barely handle the dozen or so pups they have now. The Mummy is good for the odd one-liner, while the Invisible Man is a trickster with a sensitive side. Thanks to her sheltered upbringing, Mavis is a sweet and naive teen who still becomes excited by the small things. Jonathan’s role in all this is to be clueless, shocked, frightened, accepting and “the fun guy.” But he moves through these emotions far too quickly and is sort of the token human in a monster flick. He even channels a little Marty McFly when he attempts to liven up a concert.
A noteworthy, though small part, is played by an elderly female goblin that eats everything and says “I didn’t do that” in response to people staring at her afterwards. It’s simple and unoriginal, but very funny.
As a straight up monster movie, this film could have had a lot of fun diving further into the stereotypes (“the humans are getting fatter to overpower us”) and then extending the confrontation that occurs at the end. Instead it’s weighed down by the teen romance and need to conceal Jonathan.
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Starring: (voices of) Adam Sandler, Kevin James and Andy Samberg
Click here for local showtimes, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more movie updates.