By Gary Murray
Starring the voice talents of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi and Andy Samberg
Written by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel
Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky
Running time 91 min
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating—Matinee
When I was a little kid, The Groovy Ghoulies was my favorite television show. It was a ‘monster cartoon’ with a werewolf, vampire and reanimated corpse. The show was patterned on the Laugh-In style of comedy with loads of quick cuts and short jokes. Well, those styles of monsters are not so alive and unwell in the newest animated feature Hotel Transylvania.
The story starts a century ago with Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) taking care of his infant daughter Mavis. He is a doting widowed dad and will do anything to protect his child. The world of the 19th century is hard for monsters, with torch wielding villagers attacking these poor misunderstood beings. Dracula decides to start a vacation destination in order to do two things—protect his kid and give other monsters a reprieve from those who would do the beasts harm.
Flash forward 118 years and to today. Mavis (Selena Gomez) is now a young lady, ready to see the world. Dad is very apprehensive about this. In a misguided thought, Dracula just wants to protect her.
The hotel is full of guests ready for the big party for Mavis. We have every creature that ever appeared in the Universal stable of horror. There is the Murray the Mummy (Cee Lo Green), Frankenstein’s Monster (Kevin James) and his bride Eunice (Fran Drescher), The Invisible Man (David Spade), the Wolf Man Wayne (Steve Buscemi) his wife Wanda (Molly Shannon) and their pack of little wolves.
The big draw of the hotel is that humans cannot get through all the defenses. With a full house of creatures and all the preparations for the big party, a giant wrench is thrown into the works. A human walks into the door.
Jonathan (Andy Samberg) is a backpacking kid traveling the world and looking for adventure. At first, he believes that he has stumbled onto a costume party. Very soon after that moment, he figures out what is going on and panics. Dracula panics because no human has ever set foot on the grounds.
Quickly, the vampire dresses up Jonathan as a Frankenstein style monster and tells everyone that he is a party planner. Jonathan is instantly smitten by Mavis. Mavis is smitten by Jonathan. Meaning, another complication is thrown into the plot.
The story of Hotel Transylvania is the raveling and unraveling of different lies. We find that Dracula chances everything in his life to keep his child safe, to the point of destroying their relationship. But, the entire film is more of an excuse to shoot gags from the hip.
The problem with the film falls directly in the lap of writers Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel. They are both mostly television writers and seem lost in the long form of writing. Some of the gags are inspired but a few well placed jokes to not make for a great movie. The entire exercise of Hotel Transylvania feels more like an overblown SNL skit.
The other problem with Hotel Transylvania is Adam Sandler. Dracula is a personification of evil and this interpretation misses by a coffin. He tries to channel Bela Lugosi but comes across more like a pale imitation than the genuine article.
The film is voiced by some of the biggest stars to come from SNL and television sitcoms. Most do a solid job. Andy Samberg proves that he can do some strong work without having to mug to the camera. The biggest praises have to go to young Selena Gomez as Mavis. With all the comics around her, she does what turns out to be the smartest move. She lays low and builds a true character. While she may not get all the laughs, she does generate the most sympathies.
The animation feels more along the lines of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The crew lets the characters meld and stretch more like a classic animation and not be a static image populated by newer works. Stay during the credits because there are paintings that the animations were based on. It is some stunning work by an un-credited artist that reflects the beauty of the painted image.
This film could easily become a Saturday morning cartoon show, it has the potential. That may or may not be a good idea. Recently, I borrowed the DVD of the original Groovy Ghoulies series from a buddy. I had not seen the show since I was a kid. I was amazed by how bad it was.