TIFF 2012 Review: Hotel Transylvania

'This time it’s Sandler’s character who needs to learn how to loosen up and have fun.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

 

Hotel Transylvania is underwhelming, but a little more good than bad. It gets better as the film moves along, so at least it ends on a higher note than it begins.

Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) is a single dad and he built the Hotel Transylvania for monsters to visit, and to keep his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) safe from the outside world. When a human, Jonathan (Andy Samberg), wanders into the hotel, Drac has to pretend he’s a monster, because if the guests at Mavis’s 118th birthday party found out, they’d be scared by the human. (Get it? We’re the threat, the monsters are innocent.)

The story as it were is mostly a series of monster references or puns, which are funny in themselves, but in this high a quantity draw attention to the thinness of the story. The shenanigans with Jonathan are pretty simplistic. Dracula has to keep up a ruse, like a sitcom where someone schedules two dates for the same night in the same restaurant and tries to keep both.

Now I love references. Zombie Beethoven is a hoot. The Invisible Man playing charades is great irony. Puns like Scream Cheese are cute. Every monster gimmick is in there. The fear of humans is a good twist on the same message: Learn not to judge and fear others. That’s kind of first grade stuff, but it does get to a middle school level by the end.

Some of the jokes are really too talky. Dracula talks about stakes and garlic, but it would be way funnier to show his reaction to them. The animation is totally separate from the voices at these points. Artists are drawing something, and comedians are riffing. Interestingly, the pop reference is LMFAO, and they use “Sexy and I Know It” but only the “wiggle wiggle wiggle” parts. They never play the S-word. I think it still works because that’s the most ridiculous part of the song.

One of the funniest gags in the film is when Dracula “Dracs” out. When he gets really upset, he does a scary face and it’s so quick and so outrageous, I think it’s tame enough  for kids but it’s a funny character shift. It ain’t Large Marge, but it gives a little depth to Drac.

There is an interesting shake-up in the Sandler/Samberg dynamic. This time it’s Sandler’s character who needs to learn how to loosen up and have fun. He’s usually the party animal bringing the fun. It’s still a corrupt message. Let “squares” be responsible if they want to, but at least Sandler’s getting a taste of his own medicine.

There is some inventive animation in the more visual (i.e. less talkie/jokey) sequences, a labyrinth of tunnels underneath the hotel and a flying dining room chase. The character movements are really angular with extreme, unrealistic limbs. I mean, no one could actually walk with the knees Dracula has. So that’s a pleasing aesthetic.

On the down side, the camera moves way too much just because it can. The 3-D is useless. You can actually watch the whole movie without the glasses, so let’s.

It’s weird, I’m both disappointed and pleased by Hotel Transylvania. Disappointed because it had all the makings of a really clever modern monster party. Yet the good sequences stand out and that’s what I’m mostly remembering.