Hotel Transylvania is a surprisingly succulent treat for young and old alike. Yeah. There’s plenty for even the grownups to sink their teeth into.
The Groovie Goolies
Adam Sandler provides the voice for Dracula in this lightly scary comedy and when the movie begins with him singing a lullaby with the lyrics, “My beautiful baby, let me wipe your poop away,” there’s a sense of dread Hotel Transylvania will be nothing more than a pooptacular animated feature aiming at the lowest common denominator.
Thankfully, the bulk of the movie stays out of the toilet and it actually turns into a neo-classic spin on all those old-school monsters. Wolfman, Mummy, Blob, Frankenstein, Big Foot, Invisible Man – they’ve all checked into Hotel Transylvania, a refuge Dracula built behind 400 acres of the living dead and other scary stuff. It’s a place for monsters to vacation in peace and safety, away from humans and all their blasted torches, pitchforks, silver bullets, yadda, yadda, yadda.
It’s also a place Dracula conceived of as a refuge for his beautiful vampire daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez, Monte Carlo), who’s celebrating her 118th birthday and chomping at the stake to go out and explore the world.
Ever fearful of those mean-spirited humans, Drac’s gone so far as to create a faux village to scare the wits out his only begotten; he wants to scare her straight back to his sprawling sanctuary, so he’s populated the village with zombies that obey his every command – somewhat ineptly – in an effort to create an ominous environment. It’s all about candy, garlic (bread), and fire (fire bad!).
His trick works, or so it seems. Unbeknownst to Drac, a backpacking college kid named Jonathan (Andy Samberg, Celeste & Jesse Forever) has followed them back to the hotel, totally unaware of their undead nature. He’s simply an open-minded kid out and about, seeing the world, doing exactly what Drac’s daughter wants to do.
Bringing all the good ol’ monsters together again is an idea well overdue. Hotel Transylvania offers the kind of goofy, spooky fun that calls to mind The Groovie Goolies and The Monster Squad (even the old, short-lived Fred Grandy TV series).
It’s never been done quite right, with a genuine sense of originality rather than commercial exploitation. Never been done quite right, that is, until now.
As written by a quintet of scribes, including Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel, the story beats with a generous heart, one that most definitely deserves to be stake-free. It’s rather shocking to dig into the credits lists of that creative team; among their works are Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bruno and Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. What they’ve created here is unlike those works; even with all the monster mashes and graveyard smashes, there isn’t a mean bone to be found in Hotel Transylvania.
The story deftly avoids the considerable pitfalls of becoming a pop culture pastiche and instead offers up a worthwhile story about growing up, exploring, and tolerance. Wrapped under the timeless humans v. monsters conflict is an acknowledgment that the sins of the few shouldn’t be taken as a reason to despise the whole.
Obviously that cuts both ways. The monsters learn that humans aren’t all bad and Jonathan learns that monsters have hearts, too.
But there’s more. Another theme running through Hotel Transylvania is about the importance of finding one’s “zing.” It’s a sweet, sweet message that shouldn’t be spoiled by saying anything more about it here.
Going into Hotel Transylvania, the hope was director Genndy Tartakovsky would take his work as seen on the Cartoon Network in series such as Star Wars: Clone Wars and Samurai Jack, and imbue the material with a fresh creative flourish given the much bigger canvas at his disposal.
That hope is rewarded with plenty of visual gags that guarantee this movie will hold up well under repeat viewings. Shrunken heads serve as vocal “do not disturb” door knob notices; Jonathan’s first appearance, with his backpack and accoutrements in silhouette, give him a monstrous vibe all his own. There’s also Zombie Beethoven, Zombie Mozart, and Zombie Bach, along with a nice little jab at the Twilight saga.
As for Jonathan, that kid’s got spunk and his energy is exactly what Drac’s musty ol’ hotel desperately needed to perk up the proceedings of Mavis’ big 118 birthday bash. Stale games of bingo and charades are cast aside when Jonathan (eclectically a Dave Matthew Band and Slipknot groupie) cranks up the music and gets the groove goin’ ever-so-ghoulishly.
As it turns out, among all the timeless lessons Hotel Transylvania has on tap, perhaps the most important one is simply to acknowledge monsters are what you make of them.