Monday, October 01, 2012

Hotel Transylvania / **½ (PG)

Featuring the voices of:
Dracula: Adam Sandler
Jonathan: Andy Samberg
Mavis: Selena Gomez
Frankenstein: Kevin James
Eunice: Fran Drescher
Wayne: Steve Buscemi
Wanda: Molly Shannon
Griffin: David Spade
Murray: CeeLo Green
Quasimodo: Jon Lovitz

Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation presents a film directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. Written by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel and Todd Dunham and Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman. Running time: 91 min. Rated PG (for some rude humor, action, and scary images).

My wife has always been a big fan of the 80’s spoof of classic horror cinema “Transylvania 6-5000”. I was not when growing up. I’m not sure I ever really saw it, but I saw pieces of it and decided it wasn’t for me. It was corny. It didn’t aspire to be more than it was. Most importantly, it wasn’t scary. I liked my horror scary, and spoofs like this diminish the scariness of the genre. Then, a couple of years ago, she sat me down with the kids and made us watch it. It was surprisingly funny. It’s still all those negative things I thought about it, but it’s not trying to be great cinema. Besides, the kids loved it.

Well, now comes along “Hotel Transylvania”, a classic horror monster comedy in the same vein as “Transylvania 6-5000”. It is aimed squarely at the kids. It’s a CGI animated cartoon coming in part from writers responsible for some of the more controversial Saturday Night Live bits of the 90s. You wouldn’t really know that from watching it, though. It’s all very innocent and harmless. It even pulls some of its voice casting from SNL by starring Adam Sandler as Dracula; Andy Samberg in the second lead, a human by the name of Jonathan; David Spade as The Invisible Man; Molly Shannon as the Wolfman’s wife; and Jon Lovitz as the chef, Quasimodo. Again, their input here is strictly family friendly.

Rounding out the cast is the more wholesome Disney star Selena Gomez as Dracula’s 118 year-old “teenaged” daughter Mavis, Kevin James as Frankenstein, Fran Drescher as Mrs. ‘stein, Steve Buscemi as The Wolfman and CeeLo Green as The Mummy. So other than the teeny popper Gomez, the whole cast comes from the Adam Sandler traveling cinema company. I guess they felt they needed to do something for their kids to watch. Gomez is probably just happy to finally be playing with the grown ups, even if it isn’t a grown up game. It rarely is with this bunch.

The story involves the relationship between Dracula and his daughter. She’s a typical teen who is more than ready to get away from the castle and explore the world in her own way. The whole reason Dracula built their castle—which also serves as a monster vacation destination where the formerly scary creatures can take refuge from the world—is to protect Mavis from the fate of her mother, who was killed by a mob with pitchforks and torches. What Dracula doesn’t know is that in the 118 years since he went into hiding, the world changed.

Into this wall of protection walks Jonathan, a kid hiking through Europe, living a fairly free lifestyle. At first Jonathan thinks the hotel is just some crazy costumed themed resort having to do with its famed location. When he realizes the monsters are real… let’s just say it freaks him out a little. This scene seems to be the highest form of comedy the filmmakers are reaching for. Sight gags and physical humor punctuate this section and most of the movie. It’s worth a chuckle or two but never reaches the levels of oddball comedy you’d expect from this collection of talent.

It will keep the kids entertained. The children will revel in the sights of all these monsters they’ve heard so much about, without the complication of having to be frightened by them. The filmmakers never strive for that Pixar notion of entertaining the adults as much as the children. There are a couple of Sandler related jokes that parents might respond to, like the scene where he sings to Mavis in the same style he used to during Weekend Update, but there isn’t the level of sophistication here that’s come to be expected from modern animated fare. The kids will be happy with “Hotel Transylvania”; the parents probably won’t care much. 

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