Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania

(l to r) Jonathan (Andy Samberg) and Count Dracula (Adam Sandler)

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

About three months ago, Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg co-starred in a bloodless flop of a comedy entitled That’s My Boy. But this time around, bloodless couldn’t be better as Sandler’s Dracula and Samberg’s Jonathan infuse all sorts of spirited zing into a 3D funfest that’s located through the woods and six feet under, straight on to the property of Hotel Transylvania.

It’s a monster mash-up of talent, from screenwriters Peter Baynham (Borat, Arthur Christmas) and Robert Smigel (known for his Saturday Night Live cartoon shorts), to director Genndy Tartakovsky (hailing from 20 years in television animation), to the comedic vocal work from the likes of Sandler and Samberg, as well as Kevin James, Fran Drescher and Steve Buscemi. Echoing the goofy sensibility of Sony Pictures Animation’s earlier work — the 2009 Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – these animated comedies push the edges of the outrageous, all the while appealing to both adults and children.

Dracula (Adam Sandler) and daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez)

Similar in theme from the recent re-release of Disney/Pixar’s Finding Nemo, this story is centered around an overprotective dad who’s trying to shelter his child from the big bad world. The switcheroo here is that in this case, Count Dracula (“Drac”) and all his monster minions perceive the humans as the evildoers, the ones who threaten their very existence. Heck, Drac & Co. are simply goodhearted creatures doing their best to get along, happy to find sanctuary in the 400-acre retreat that Drac built primarily to protect his only child Mavis (voiced by a spunky Selena Gomez). After a touching opening that sets the tone between a father and his little ghoul, with the baby Mavis blooming under Daddy Drac’s ever-watchful parenting, the plot zooms forward to the occasion of Mavis’ 118th birthday (commensurate with the significance of a human’s 18th birthday). Even though Drac is throwing a weekend bat-wing-ding for Mavis, inviting every A-list creature from near and far (Frankenstein, Murray The Mummy, Griffin The Invisible Man, Wayne The Werewolf, etc.), Mavis isn’t all that excited. She yearns to fly free, to discover the world all by herself.

Murray the Mummy (Cee-Lo Green), Frank (Kevin James), Dracula (Adam Sandler), Wayne (Steve Buscemi), Invisible Man (David Spade)

The verbal works claw-in-glove with the visual as the movie unearths humor at every turn. The Invisible Man realizes he’s lousy at charades; Frankenstein’s Bride (Fran Drescher) screams how she can’t bear loud people; beleaguered Wayne the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi) is overrun with litters of wolfish offspring who still aren’t potty trained; otherworldly construction workers stop to whistle at a hot zombie; and cultured, urbane Drac is a marvelous host until his authority is challenged … and then, hold onto your cross, he turns into a white-eyed, red-faced, dangerously be-fanged demon. And don’t even get him started on the garlic bread.

When Jonathan (Samberg), a 21-year-old backpacking dude whose motto is “just roll with it” first stumbles into Drac’s foreboding forest, he’s glimpsed from behind, anatomically hidden by his overlarge backpack. The effect is clever, leading us to assume we’re contending with one more nutty monster. Though his laidback dude-speak is at first stereotypical, the writers eventually allow Johnny some depth. In his relationship with Drac, it’s his good humor and free spirit that charms the vampire’s über-controlling, old-fashioned attitude … and they’re both surprised to discover that they enjoy each other’s company. Which makes it all the more difficult for Drac to banish the human from his castle, especially when it seems that Mavis is smitten.

Per director Tartakovsky, “In feature films, you’re constrained to be real. But I wanted to take this film to the extreme opposite by making the animation cartoony and fun and exaggerated.” Bingo … speaking of which, the oldsters do just that, playing with live, shrunken skeleton heads. Meanwhile, the Dia de Los Muertos mariachi band kills it, and flying banquet tables are transformed into ersatz snowboards, as Johnny and Drac race each other around and through the castle. It seems that nearly every frame is created with a nod to the wacky, the clever or sheer eye-filling excess.

While actors’ voices in animated films are usually perfectly fine, this ensemble is exceptionally funny. Drescher’s screeching Bride, Buscemi’s weary, flat-toned data processor by day/werewolf by night, Kevin James’ slightly dim, workaday Frankenstein and CeeLo’s exuberant party animal Murray. While remaining faithful to the Dracula sound, Sandler finds a warm, expressive baritone to convey the many verbal sides of this particular Count.

Other than a third act that drags on a bit longer than you-know-who’s oversized cape, Hotel Transylvania serves up a frightfully good time. Feel free to check in any time you like.

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Rating on a score of 5 new-fangled ideas: 4

Release date: September 28, 2012
Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky
Screenplay by: Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel
Story by: Todd Durham and Daniel Hageman & Kevin Hageman
Voice Cast: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, CeeLo Green
Rating: PG
Running Time: 91 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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