Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Hotel Transylvania": Cute-- but Not Magical

Overprotective, meddling parents seem to be a staple in animated films. Disney and Pixar have long understood the universal appeal and gave us movies like "Finding Nemo" "Mulan" and "Tangled'; all of which had very different takes on this trope and yet delivered something both parents and kids could equally enjoy. Sony Studios recently decided to give it a go with Hotel Transylvania, a sweet father/daughter story that, while cute, struggles to reach the near perfection that the other studios seem to find so easily.

Dracula (Adam Sandler) is a single father struggling to raise his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) after the tragic death of his wife Martha. Fearing that the human world is too dangerous for Mavis he builds a hotel that will be a sanctuary for monsters from human kind.  As Mavis' 118th birthday arrives she reminds her father of a promise he made to let her leave the castle and explore the human world when she came of age. Dracula agrees to let her go, but sets up an elaborate ruse that scares Mavis into returning to the castle and vowing to never venture beyond its borders again.

But Dracula's plan backfires when a human by the name of Johnny (Andy Samberg) is attracted by the commotion of Dracula's big deception and follows Dracula's minions all the way back to the castle. Dracula frantically tries to hide Johnny's presence and disguises him as a relative of Frankenstein (specifically his right hand) and tells everyone his name is Johnny-stein.

Johnny ends up posing as a party coordinator and his youth and enthusiasm brings much needed life to the castle. But Dracula becomes concerned when Mavis and Johnny "zing" with the look of love-at-first-sight and frantically tries to find a way to get Johnny out of the castle before Mavis and his other guests realize Johnny is human.

"Hotel Transylvania" tries hard to live up to the bar set by Pixar and Disney and it almost succeeds. Visually the film is terrific. It's colorful and imaginative and everyone from Frankenstein to the Werewolf (and his many, many children) are artfully rendered. There are times when the various creatures do hearken back to something out of "Monsters Inc." so, unfortunately, the audience never has that I've never seen this before feel, but it is truly pretty to watch.  However "Hotel Transylvania" can't compete when it comes to the smart stories and wry dialog audiences have come to expect from today's kid-friendly fare. Whether it's Elatigirl's wistful sigh as she looks at her rear-end in her new superhero costume or Buzz Lightyear learning that Zorg is his father, Pixar never forgets to give a nod to the adult viewers. "Hotel Transylvania" instead opts for fart jokes and nose picking.

"Hotel Transylvania" is a cute movie that most people will enjoy. It's not hard to sit through and it has a sweet story that reinforces all the messages you want about familial love and understanding. But it's only really enjoyable on a superficial level. There are none of those misty-eyed moments that pop up in films like "Up" or "Toy Story 3" nor does it evoke any particular nostalgia. Mostly, it's a nice bit of entertainment that will tickle the funny bone of small kids. You'll probably end up buying the DVD for your little ones- but you probably won't sit down and watch it a second time once you do.


Linds said...

That's a bit of a bummer. I was really looking forward to this one, because it showed so much potential. It hasn't racked up the kind of reviews I was hoping for, which means I'll wait for it to come out to rent instead.

Charles Gramlich said...

Even as a voice, Adam Sandler irritates me.

SQT said...

@Linds- I was a little disappointed too. My son loved it though (he's eight), but my 12-year-old was underwhelmed.

@Charles- I like Sandler. He's one of my guilty pleasures. Though when his bad movies are really bad ("Zohan," "Jack & Jill") they're awful. But "50 First Dates" is one of my all-time favorites. I also love "Wedding Singer" and "Big Daddy."