I felt a small victory at the end of “Hotel Transylvania,” for it proved that I was right to hold out hope for an Adam Sandler movie that worked. Having only this past June appeared in the God-awful raunch fest “That’s My Boy,” he now comes through with a pleasant, lighthearted, funny 3D animated comedy that’s suitable for the whole family. Perhaps this is a genre he’s better suited for, not just as an actor but also as a producer and writer. Lord knows that if I have to endure another movie like “That’s My Boy,” “The House Bunny,” “Grown Ups,” “Just Go With It,” “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star,” “Zookeeper,” or “Jack and Jill,” I’m liable to give up on film criticism altogether. If you’re willing to forfeit an hour and a half to two hours of your life to a movie, it might as well be for one that’s worth it.
The story reworks many of the most famous monsters and creatures from literature, cinema, and myth into delightful comic figures. Count Dracula is now a worrisome dad who replaces fresh blood with artificial supplements. Human blood is just too fatty, he explains, and one never knows where it has been. Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, Big Foot, and several skeletons, gremlins, and ooze monsters are now guests at the titular hotel, all of them embodying various vacationer typecasts that are intentionally exaggerated. The Wolfman, for example, is the browbeaten father of dozens upon dozens of rambunctious cubs, with another litter on the way. Zombies are now bellhops, witches are now housekeepers, shrunken heads are now talking Do Not Disturb signs, skulls are now alarm clocks, and sheet ghosts are now tablecloths for the dining room. They even work in Quasimodo, now a pint-sized Parisian chef.
The plot involves Dracula (voiced by Sandler) micromanaging the final details of his daughter’s 118th birthday party while simultaneously trying to hide the fact that a human has infiltrated the hotel, which had been human-free since 1898. He has deeply distrusted humans ever since an angry Transylvanian mob took his beloved wife over 100 years ago. This is why he’s so annoyingly overprotective of his daughter, Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez), especially now that she wants to leave home and see what’s out there. The hotel was built specifically to keep her and all other monsters safe from the outside world; to ensure that humans would stay away, architects saw to it that the complex would be surrounded by a haunted forest and a graveyard infested with the undead.
Despite these safety precautions, a twenty-one-year-old backpacker with a borderline surfer-dude accent named Johnny (voiced by Andy Samberg) has somehow found his way inside the hotel. He initially thinks he has wandered into a costume party, although he quickly realizes that all the monsters are very much real. Dracula, panicked that Johnny will be discovered, hastily makes him up to look like a long-lost cousin of Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James). It’s a decent enough cover story. After all, Frankenstein is made from the body parts of many different people, all of whom presumably had families of their own. As Johnny tries to blend in, he crosses paths with Mavis, and the two instantly fall for each other. Naturally, Dracula is horrified by this turn of events.
Not many would agree, but I personally think it’s funny that the Invisible Man (voiced by David Spade) shaves his face, that he gets embarrassed when his swimming trunks are yanked down to his ankles, and that he participates in a game of charades. I also think it’s funny that Frankenstein would disassemble himself, pack his parts in boxes, and have himself shipped to his destination rather than travel by plane; planes can catch on fire, and as we all know, “Fire, bad!” And of course Frankenstein would have a wife voiced by Fran Drescher, because only then can she legitimately complain about someone else’s voice being annoying. It helps that she, along with just about every other character in the film, bears something of a resemblance to the voice actor. You might have to look a little closer with the Mummy, a roly-poly bandaged man voiced by Cee Lo Green; it’s most obvious in his incredibly big smile.
Thematically, there’s nothing original about the film. What it boils down to, essentially, is learning to let go, learning to trust, and learning to not being selfish. Conventional though they may be, there’s no denying that these are healthy, positive messages younger audiences should be exposed to. The more they hear it in the movies they like, the better the chances they will actually sink in. How nice that Adam Sandler and his creative team set aside their crude sensibilities and made a film that all audiences, not just adults, can have fun with. “Hotel Transylvania” represents a healthier attitude towards the comedy movie, where the goal is to make audiences laugh rather than to try and shock them with endless vulgarities. That it happens to be animated is a bonus.