Thursday, April 25, 2013

A (Mostly) Amusing Animated Film, Hotel Transylvania Is Not Great.

The Good: Moments of imagination, Much of the voice acting
The Bad: One-hit humor, Predictable character arcs and plot
The Basics: An amusing concept, Hotel Transylvania has a decent set-up that fails to evolve in an interesting or unpredictable way.

There are, these days, very few films that I miss that I feel like I have actually missed. When a movie is important enough to me, I tend to find a way to get out to see it. So, I was not feeling any great deficit in my life when I uprooted last year and moved from New York to Michigan when Hotel Transylvania came out. It was not a film I prioritized checking out after my move and, having seen it now, I am glad I did not make the effort (getting to the movie theaters out here can be a real pain!). Hotel Transylvania is not bad, but it is hardly as funny, audacious or even interesting as one might hope.

That is not to say that Hotel Transylvania is bad. However, it does not take long for the initially fun-feeling animated feature to turn into pretty much what one expects from an Adam Sandler movie. In addition to utilizing the voice talents of virtually all of Adam Sandler’s old Saturday Night Live buddies – Jon Lovitz, Molly Shannon, David Spade – Sandler’s initial voice performance as Dracula soon slips into his familiar timbre. The result is that the film slowly becomes one of Adam Sander’s feel-good comedies, though this one has a pretty low rewatchability factor because the jokes might illicit a smile the first time around, but not much more than that on subsequent viewings (rewatching even the trailer after seeing the film, I found myself unfortunately unamused).

As her 118th birthday approaches, Mavis – the vampire daughter of Dracula - begs her father to honor his word to her and let her leave their monster sanctuary hotel as he promised her she could at that age. To her surprise, Dracula does let her go – starting with a visit to a nearby village. There, Mavis is horrified to find villagers with torches who want to eat her toes, exactly like her father warned her about. As Mavis flees back to the hotel sanctuary, Dracula has the zombie bellhops from the hotel – who were disguised as humans for the show – strike the village set he created to freak Mavis out. The ruse has the desired effect and Mavis expresses no further desire to leave the monsters-only hotel.

Unfortunately, the show Dracula puts on for his ignorant daughter has an unexpected consequence; a human hiker follows the zombies back to the monsters hotel. While Dracula works to conceal young Jonathan’s humanity (a real difficulty considering the hotel chef, Quasimodo, has a rat with a nose like a bloodhound) to insure his guests will continue to stay at his monster’s hotel and get the young man off the grounds, Jonathan meets Mavis and the two have an instant connection. Forced to keep Jonathan around when he explains to Mavis, Frankenstein and the others that Jonathan is a party planner (and the Frankenstein monster’s cousin), Dracula struggles to keep Jonathan and Mavis from getting closer while keeping his human identity from the guests and chef!

Hotel Transylvaniaquickly abandons its sense of originality – the whole premise that classic gothic monsters are actually fun-loving, misunderstood, and still exist in this day in age is fun – in favor of a predictable plot so obvious and formulaic that only children will be surprised by it. Mavis and Jonathan hit it off, but Dracula is the classic disapproving parent. So, much of Hotel Transylvania is his journey toward a modern, tolerant viewpoint when he realizes just how much Mavis likes Jonathan.

In fact, Hotel Transylvania is so canned and predictable that virtually every formulaic plot point for this type of romantic comedy occurs. Dad disapproves, has a moment of understanding where he comes to like the potential suitor, sees the daughter and suitor together and freaks out, encounters an obstacle that forces him to rely upon the suitor and the boy and girl bond. But, to keep the suitor safe, he must reject the girl (which hurts both young people) and only then does the father realize that the story of these two youth in one form or another mirrors his own romance with his dead wife and he comes to a position of tolerance, which forces him to pursue the suitor to bring about a reconciliation, at great personal peril.

That fact that the main characters are monsters and a human does not make the character journey or plot any more original.

On DVD, I was caught by how much of the animation is clearly oriented toward the 3-D thrill aspect. Seeing it only in 2-D, I was largely unimpressed, but given that spectacle is only 1 point in my reviewing standards, this is not a dealbreaker. That said, the animation style is fun and Hotel Transylvania looks good. Director Genndy Tartakovsky makes Hotel Transylvania look good with a decent sense of motion and color vibrancy that feels fresher than the story does.

As for the performances in Hotel Transylvania, they are generally average. The cast is led by Adam Sandler (Dracula) and Andy Samberg (Jonathan) and they play off one another very well. Considering Sandler and Samberg are working with talents they are familiar with, it is unsurprising that Hotel Transylvaniasounds good. Given that none of the stars in the film are particularly adept outside comedy (save Steve Buscemi), it is unsurprising that things like Adam Sandler’s accent slip occur as the film progresses.

On the flip side, Selena Gomez does surprisingly well as Mavis. She emotes well using her voice and makes Mavis sound like a fun young woman eager to experience life outside the walls of Hotel Transylvania. On DVD, the film comes with minimal bonus features and we only watched the trailers for other films soon to be released and none were particularly thrilling. Then again, neither was Hotel Transylvania, so the DVD is par for the source material’s course.

For similar animated films, please visit my reviews of:
The Nightmare Before Christmas


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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