Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky
Gateway horror flicks. You gotta love ‘em. Kid-friendly spookshows are the best way for children to appreciate a good scare without being traumatized or left in catatonia. I’m thinking of films like the recent ParaNorman or Monster House or films from my own childhood such as Monster Squad or Gremlins.
The newest addition to this group is Hotel Transylvania, a fun (if slight) 3D animated kids’ movie featuring the voices of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade, and others. You read that right – the combined “talent” that most recently gave us the atrocious Grown Ups (along with some of the worst comedies in recent memory) have returned to give us a surprisingly delightful children’s film that should charm Monster Kids of all ages.
The film opens in 1895 with a recently widowed Dracula (Sandler) playing single parent to his young daughter, Mavis (Gomez), in their large, mostly empty castle. Dracula insists upon the seclusion his home provides in order to shield his little girl from the horrors of the outside world (that’d be humans of the pitchfork-and-torch variety).
As Mavis ages, an idea strikes Drac: He will refit his castle and surrounding lands to keep out all humans, then open his doors for all of monsterkind to visit and relax (free from the worry of having to escape the evil humans).
Cut to well over a century later, and we find Drac in the planning stages of Mavis’ upcoming 118th birthday party. Unfortunately for the Count, two nagging problems look to prevent the party from going off without a hitch: Mavis’ insistence on leaving the castle and finally exploring the outside world (an idea her overprotective father detests) and the arrival of doofy (and quite human) backpacker Johnathan (Samberg), who threatens not only the appearance of Dracula’s all-important impenetrable security but also to take Mavis’ heart and sweep her away to the outside world.
Along the way the movie showcases all manner of recognizable creatures, including Frankenstein (James), the Invisible Man (Spade), the Wolfman (Buscemi) and his teeming brood of rascally werepups, The Mummy (CeeLo Green), and many more. Surprisingly, the cast is pretty solid all around. Even Sandler does a great job, keeping his Dracula humorous without ever making him a buffoon.
The movie is stuffed to the (Creature’s) gills with sight gags galore that will appeal to both younger audiences as well as older fans knowledgeable of classic monster cinema. And under Genndy Tartakovsky’s direction, the movie flat out moves, zipping from scene to scene at a breakneck pace without ever becoming tiresome.
In addition to its bristling energy, strong voice work, and fun script, the movie looks gorgeous with stunning colors and beautifully choreographed shots that are sometimes jaw-dropping (even more so in 3D). And while some of the jokes are outright groaners, the film did a fine job of keeping this kid at heart grinning throughout its running time. My biggest gripe is that, ultimately, the movie’s theme is a rather simple one. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by recent kid-friendly films that dared to tackle weighty themes (the fantastic ParaNorman being the most recent example), but I found Hotel to be a bit lacking when it came to its final resolution.
Look, I never thought I’d find myself in the position of recommending an Adam Sandler comedy to anyone ever again. But if you’re a fan of good-natured, monstery fun for the whole family, you could do a lot worse than visiting Hotel Transylvania.
3 1/2 out of 5