(This review was originally published on September 28, 2012 at Reel Film News)
You don’t mess with the Count, or Adam Sandler’s box office draw, even if it means miscasting him as an animated character. Half the cast of “Grownups” play monsters seeking refuge from nasty humans in “Hotel Transylvania”.
Adam Sandler and “Grown Ups” co-stars Kevin James and David Spade have found a reason to get together between shameless ensemble comedies (there’s a “Grown Ups 2” releasing in 2013), lending their mouths to Sony Pictures Animation’s newest digital feature “Hotel Transylvania”. It’s a decent looking but slackly-scripted Halloween vehicle in which the 3D is mostly utilized to make flatulence palpable and give some depth to a few sure-to-be-dated-in-six-months dance routines that made me want to sashay out the door. Unlike the majority of digitally animated material these days – from Dreamworks, Pixar and so forth – which typically appeal to both children and adults (even with the occasional misfire), “Transylvania” caters primarily to the pre-teen set, which it should, but without much depth, a trite love story and a moral that most kids probably won’t even absorb because it is so trivialized, the film feels like it was conceived by someone from its own target demographic.
And that’s its biggest, most frustrating problem. The film squanders its potential several times, including the 3D, but mainly by not tempering its base humor with anything remotely intelligent for the kids. Sandler voices Count Dracula, choosing an accent about a half notch off of his character in “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan”, which I realize might not be so annoying to a 10-year-old, so that’s how I desperately tried to view it (even when he says “I-vant-to-pat-your toooosh!” to a baby) Cringe. He’s a single, neurotic dad running a hotel for disenfranchised monsters who show up in droves to find safe haven from evil humans (to simplify things, I guess they’re all considered one species). His 118-year-old daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) is chomping at the bit to see the world on her birthday – I’m assuming it’s the vampire equivalent of her 18th – envisioning some paradise where I’d imagine the sun would make gothic bacon out of her. But the Count is so over-protective, he’s convinced her that the world is too dangerous instead of just warning her about UV rays; human beings are terrible creatures and have not only persecuted their kind for centuries, but were responsible for the death of her mother.
But the central plot line is really about the elaborate party he’s planning for her, which eventually becomes the reason for the entire movie – essentially one giant monster mash that never meets its potential. And just about every creature from the classic stories is in attendance, which do provide some laughs here and there, almost always from sight gags. Frankenstein, played by Kevin James, is large, lovable, and shipped to the hotel in several UPS boxes, along with his bride (Fran Drescher)who yaps incessantly. Spade plays the invisible man, whose only visible accessory are his glasses, until one scene in which he powders his backside for no apparent reason. The group also includes Murray, an overweight mummy played by Cee Lo Green (of TV’s “The Voice”). Collectively, these pairings made me wonder if the film had been cast based solely on body type. And then there’s the human, voiced by SNL’s Andy Samberg, a backpacking youngster who stumbles upon the castle and eventually falls in love with Mavis because they ‘zing’. This comes a little later, but the chemistry attaches itself to the party premise like a tick; sometimes it had me itching to go re-watch “Transylvania 6-5000”.
I found “Hotel Transylvania” oft familiar, sometimes amusing, but mostly just reminiscent of the TV cartoons that make up the majority of director Genndy Tartakovsky’s résumé. That isn’t always a bad thing, as most of Tartakovsky’s work is sharp and clever enough for Saturday mornings (he created “Dexter’s Laboratory”), but it doesn’t offer much to compliment the upgrade in computer animation for a feature-length film, nor make up for the comic detritus leaking from the Happy Madison crew. “Transylvania” gets points for some funny moments, most notably Steve Buscemi as the sleep-deprived werewolf dad and his litter of rampant pups. But to say it’s funnier than most recent Sandler comedies isn’t much of a compliment. I often wondered if he phoned in his Dracula part from a beach chair in Hawaii. Cha-ching.
“Hotel Transylvania” is rated PG. It has some moments that might frighten children under 6, and plenty of moments that will frighten parents.