Review: ‘Hotel Transylvania’ (a monster mash about zing that could use a little more)

Even when the story drags and the plot points fall short, creepy gags keep the film moving along.

Well over a hundred years ago, Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) built a huge castle for his only daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), to keep her safe from humans (read: isolated from the rest of the world). By creating a hotel where all monsters could come and relax without being persecuted, his plans are foiled when a lone human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles unknowingly into the lobby, mistaking it for an elaborate costume party. It doesn’t take long for Mavis and Jonathan to predictably hit it off, but the Count is determined to keep Jonathan’s true identity a secret to ensure it doesn’t spoil Mavis’ 118th birthday. What could go wrong?

Genndy Tartakovsky and animation are almost synonymous. For Cartoon Network, he has produced everything from “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “The Power Puff Girls” to “Samuri Jack” and “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” For Hotel Transylvania, he cast a virtual who’s who of “Saturday Night Live” alumni for character voices while mining the spookiness that made “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy” so much fun. The animation and details are spot on, but the film fails to gel together and stumbles between concept and conclusion. Celebrating all things monstrous while targeting at the young (and the young at heart), Hotel Transylvania feels more like a good Cartoon Network series pilot than a great feature film.

Seriously, no one thought to do a parody of The Eagle’s “Hotel California” for this? Maybe they tried and couldn’t get the rights, but there are more than a few head-scratching moments in the film. For example, Quasimodo (voiced unrecognizably by Jon Lovitz) has the demeanor of a French chef and looks eerily like Skinner from Pixar’s Ratatouille (complete with a rat assistant). This bit is also tucked into the meandering and overlong second act, leaving very little of the ninety-minute time for the hurry-up conclusion. But wait… isn’t Quasimodo human himself (read: not a monster)? Sure, they needed a plot device, but this is pretty thin, as if they ran out of good monsters and had to invent a heavy to peddle the less entertaining story points onto.

A preachy plot about overprotecting your children trips up the story and grinds it to a halt more than once; even the bonding moments between Jonathan and Dracula suffer from radical tone shifts in spite of being interesting. Besides the Halloween-worthy atmosphere and monster gags, the plot mostly involves Jonathan teaching the old, out-of-touch creatures of the night how to tempo it up and get the party going (because that’s what young people do, right?) The voice cast also includes Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, and CeeLo Green.

Pixar and DreamWorks Animation currently compete for animation dominance, but thus far Sony Animation’s attempts to cash in on computer-generated entertainment have fallen short, even below Fox Animation Studios. Sony’s last creature feature, Monster House, suffered from a lack of fun (not to mention animating a film that might as well have been done with live actors), but while Hotel Transylvania shows improvement, the balance between storytelling and entertainment still falls short of turning a good film into a great one.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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