Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky
Written by: Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel (screenplay), Todd Durham and Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman (story)
Starring: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Steve Buscemi, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Chris Parnell, Ceelo Green, Luenell
Casual moviegoers would (and should) be forgiven if they temporarily confused HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, the latest effort from Sony Pictures Animation (ARTHUR CHRISTMAS, CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, OPEN SEASON), for a stop-motion or computer-animated remake of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. To be sure, there are some similarities between HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, but they’re, at best superficial and coincidental. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA is nothing more (and often less) than another family-oriented animated horror-comedy and, thus, far from THE ROCKY PICTURE SHOW’s intended audience. It’s also lightweight, unambitious, and passable and/or watchable only by (and for) parents hoping for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon time-waster.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA centers on a defanged version of Bram Stoker’s singular count, Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler). He’s closer to his “Sesame Street” counterpart than the fierce, fearsome vampire found in Stoker’s novel or countless incarnations onscreen. Instead, he’s an over-protective father desperate to keep his one and only daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), as far away as inhumanly possible from the outside, human world. Given Dracula’s negative experiences with humans, his fears for Mavis’ (immortal) life aren’t unfounded. Despite his best efforts, however, he can’t keep Mavis locked up permanently. Nearing her 118th birthday, Mavis’ chafes at her father’s rules and restrictions, but he convinces her through guile and subterfuge not to leave the titular hotel, a hotel that caters that all manner of non-human monsters, from werewolves to yetis, and every fantastical creation in between.
Zombies, however, have been relegated to menial, manual labor. They’re the hotel’s lower class. They’re fit to serve, but not to be served. Director Genndy Tartakovsky (SAMURAI JACK, DEXTER’S LABORATORY) makes a running gag of their shambling, monosyllabic expense. It’s one of HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA’s funniest (if not funniest gag), in large part because it acknowledges what every horror fan explicitly or implicitly knows about zombies and their relatively low status in the horror genre (i.e., they’re interchangeable, expendable, replaceable, and disposable). There’s less cleverness elsewhere in HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA’s other running gags or jokes, but credit to Tartakovsky and his screenwriting team (five writers receive either screenplay or story credit) for at least trying, if only sporadically succeeding, in keeping HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA’s a comedy first and foremost and the father-daughter conflict minimally annoying or obtrusive.
The same can’t be said, however, for HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA’s human hero, Jonathan (Adam Sandberg), an American backpacker with stereotypical West Coast mannerisms and speech patterns. Dracula discovers his presence before anyone else does, but because humans aren’t just disallowed from vacationing at the hotel, they’re also feared (they’re the real monsters in case you’re wondering), he hides Jonathan in plain sight as Frankenstein’s (Kevin James) long-lost cousin. Hijinks of the “will they or won’t they discover his real identity” take up most of HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA’s running time once Jonathan stumbles into the hotel, with the occasional tangent into a chaste romance between Jonathan and Mavis, who, contrary to everything we’ve ever heard or read about vampires, doesn’t identify Jonathan by the delicious smell of his human blood or the sound of his still beating heart.
To be fair, that development would have taken HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA into territory too dark for a kid-friendly film. Instead, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA borrows heavily from every romantic comedy involving young lovers and disapproving parents, including, but not limited to, a mad-dash to the airport to stop one character from boarding a flight. For all its unoriginality narratively, however, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA offers better-than-average voice work, including a scene-stealing turn from Steve Buscemi as Wayne, a hopelessly harried werewolf overwhelmed by the demands of fatherhood. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA offers less visually (passable, but not particularly inventive) or character wise beyond the central cast and one or two minor characters. Tartakovsky often relies on a perplexing amount of stereotypical humor, using African-American performers (CeeLo Green, Luenell) for seemingly obligatory racial diversity.