Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky
Written by Peter Baynham, Robert Smigel, Todd Durham, Kevin Hageman, and Dan Hageman
Genndy Tartakovsky’s treatment in recent years hasn’t really been the best. After Dexter’s Lab and Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack managed to never get a conclusion despite its popularity, and Sym-Bionic Titan was on TV for such a short time that I still haven’t seen an episode. Mix this in with various film projects falling through, and I simply didn’t know how Hotel Transylvania would turn out. Turns out it’s a pleasant surprise.
After Dracula (Adam Sandler) loses his wife and has to take care of his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) on his own, he ends up building a hotel where he can keep her, and all the other monsters, safe from humans. And even as she’s turning 118, he’s still not ready to let her go out into the world. Things become worse when a human, Jonathan (Andy Samberg) manages to find the hotel and starts shaking things up.
Here’s the obvious thing: some of the story points clearly aren’t the most original. Let’s just point to the overprotective father angle taken right from Finding Nemo, and monsters being afraid from humans just like Monsters Inc. The overall idea though provides plenty of imagination. Having a getaway for monsters is just interesting and funny. The hotel itself is filled with plenty of different monsters, from classics like Dracula and werewolves to flying brains, and they’re always doing something. Particularly in lobby scenes, there’s just so much stuff going on to take in. Even background monsters have been given some sort of personality and keep showing up. You get familiar with each one of them and learn to like them.
One of my biggest fears going into this movie was the all-star voice cast. Adam Sandler, I can count a handful of movies he’s in that I’ve liked, and most of those are in spite of him rather than because of him. He does a surprisingly good job here, keeping up the Transylvanian accent and giving the uptight Dracula a lot of humor and pathos. His regular cohorts Andy Samberg, Kevin James (as Frankenstein) and David Spade (as the Invisible Man) are all also doing fine jobs. It almost makes me wonder if the camaraderie between them has simply made them stronger, such that, even in an animated space, they know how to play off of each other. Their characters, along with Steve Buscemi as a werewolf and Cee Lo Green as a mummy, just come off as best friends. It’s enjoyable to watch them. Maybe this is what Sandler was trying to do with something like Grown Ups, but as monsters, they’re much more enjoyable to watch.
Tartakovsky’s own touch can be seen in the animation. I don’t think he’s ever worked in a CG space before, and yet you can see it come through. The characters will be moving and dancing and suddenly you realize that you’ve seen that style in one of his shows. It helps that he really knows how to make things big. Characters will make big cartoonish movements, dramatic gestures, Dracula talking normally until it suddenly goes to a close-up of him hissing. The movie has no worries about fully realistic character movements and just wants them to be cartoons, and it works.
Not only is Hotel Transylvania surprisingly good, but it continues the theme of good Halloween movies for families this year. It might not reach the emotional heights of ParaNorman or Frankenweenie, but it’s funny, imaginative, and most importantly, shows that Tartakovsky is still around and just as good as you remember him.