Emmy Award-winning animator and Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky makes his feature directorial debut with Hotel Transylvania, an endearing tale about an overprotective Dracula intent on sheltering his beloved daughter from the vicious humans who killed her mother. The result is a film that will tickle parents with a soft spot for creature features while it puts a good-humored spin on familiar monster lore. Brimming with a sense of dynamic visual energy courtesy of Tartakovsky, and bursting with ghoulish gags thanks to screenwriters Robert Smigel and Peter Baynham, it falls back on current trends a bit too much to be called a true original, but succeeds at showing impressionable young viewers a playful side of the silver screen’s most memorable monsters.
His beloved wife killed by monster-hating humans, a grieving Dracula (voice of Adam Sandler) vows to protect his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) by building a massive hotel where no human will ever set foot. As a result, the Hotel Transylvania becomes the most popular vacation destination for monsters of all shapes and sizes. Everyone from Frankenstein (Kevin James) to Wayne the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi) to Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade) all have a warm bed waiting for them at the hotel, but this year, the appearance of a wide-eyed backpacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) threatens to turn Mavis’ 118th birthday bash into a total disaster. Incensed as Dracula is at the prospect of a human stumbling into his monster safe haven, he attempts to pass off Jonathan as a party planner and distant relative of Frankenstein’s, but finds his plan falling apart when Mavis develops a crush on the mortal newcomer while dreaming of life outside of the sprawling castle she’s never left.
Infused with a kinetic sense of energy thanks to the talented Tartakovsky, Hotel Transylvania is a visual treat for eyes both young and old. With whimsical character designs and carefully detailed sets, Tartakovsky and company make the most of the animated format as the camera frenetically whips and cranes around the castle, and the creatures casually execute moves that would be particularly difficult in a live-action film. Although the scatological humor of the early scenes may leave some parents fearing that co-writers Smigel and Baynham have set their sights squarely at the lowest common denominator, the nuances gradually begin to show when Jonathan recounts his journey in a clear reference to the plot of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And once the festivities get underway, the writers fire off a barrage of classic monster jokes as Jonathan scrambles to maintain his creepy alter ego, and control freak Dracula loosens up while learning that being a good parent means knowing when to let go.
Admittedly, the concept of monsters as the good guys and humans as the villains is nothing new in the realm of movies, but Tartakovsky keeps things moving along at a satisfying pace as the stellar voice cast have a field day with their iconic characters. And though James and Buscemi get the majority of the best lines as, respectively, Frankenstein and Wayne, honorable mention goes to Fran Drescher for her portrayal of Frank’s bride Eunice as a stereotypical Jersey Shore housewife; Chris Parnell as the Fly; and Jon Lovitz as Quasimodo, the house cook who longs to whip up some Jonathan stew. And though even the most patient of parents will groan like the undead when Dracula starts singing with a vocoder during the obligatory dance number at the end, the little ones aren’t likely to be nearly as cynical, making this one mad monster party that’s well-worth attending. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan