Fitting nicely within the framework created by recent endeavors like ParaNorman and The Lorax, Hotel Transylvania perpetuates the trend of children’s animated films placing feel good moral messages before daring storytelling.
The dilemma in this case is not what it says (all children must eventually experiment in the real world), but how it says it. Clumsily stitched together with disparate character arcs and tame slapstick humor, Genndy Tartakovsky’s feature length directorial debut follows Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) adjusting to the prospect of his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) venturing into human society (which he has made out to be a place filled with discrimination towards monsters) for her 118th birthday.
Even after more than a century of living, eager Mavis is thrilled that while her father designs her “biggest birthday bash yet”, she’ll be allowed outside. As tension rises between father and daughter (Mavis’ initial experience with humans with suspiciously disappointing), the situation is exacerbated when Jonathan (a open-minded human voiced by Andy Sandberg) slips through the cracks of the Hotel Transylvania hotel.
Understandably Dracula struggles with satisfying the multitudes of party guests, the disguising of a human (Johnny dresses up as if he’s Frankenstein’s cousin), and most importantly pleasing his daughter. Mavis and Johnny meet – and the two immediately hit it off (yet another relationship Dracula has to worry about).
By placing the film in a hotel, Tartakovsky has plenty of room to creatively construct a ghoulish playground filled with the most iconic monsters in the genre. Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James), the Mummy, and the Invisible man (Griffin voiced by David Spade) are especially joyous elements in an otherwise middling setting.
Russian born, Tartakovsky, through his experiences of writing and directing multiple smash-hit animated T.V. programs (Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls), has proven to be a talent with depth and enjoyable spontaneity. Hotel Transylvania is lacking the spirit exhibited in the aforementioned projects.
Written by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel, the film doesn’t contain either enough laughs or scares to enthrall a younger audience. The roundabout of gifted voice actors exudes charm. But that isn’t enough.
The design of Hotel Transylvania, however, makes every other variable in its 91-minute runtime pale in contrast. Visual artistry is Tartakovsky’s strong suit – and he constantly facilitates his aptitude for macabre creation.
Not to diverge from the path too far, but through the duration of Hotel Transylvania a realization was made. I finally pinpointed what about this type of animated material I’m ambivalent towards: its continuous ploys attempting to pander to its target family demographic, matched by its frustrating inability to do something original.
We’ve seen this story before – rebellious teen daughter longs for experiences away from overprotecting father – done with more ingenuity. Sure, this crowd-pleasing folly about each child undertaking a journey away from home will momentarily satisfy our children.
However, what about a piece of adolescent filmmaking that effectively resonates and instills the values and messages worth understanding in this lifetime? This momentarily satisfying monster mash-up doesn’t amount to much more than forgettable escapism. It’s not enough.