‘Hotel Transylvania’ Review
"Bluh! Blobbity bluh blob blurr!" - the little animated vampire bat that the Columbia Pictures logo becomes at the beginning of 'Hotel Transylvania,' well representing the measure of humor in the film.
I'm gonna use the Z word. It's a word that usually elicits a binary response. Here it comes: zany. 'Hotel Transylvania' - the first feature film from underground animation legend Genndy Tartakovsky starring the voice and spirit of Adam Sandler and co-written by Robert Smigel (the man behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) - is a little bit clever, a little bit crafty, a little bit silly but, fundamentally, it is zany.
There are three (at least) sequences of the "camera" swirling around the lobby of the titular hotel as a tsunami of spooktacular creatures are screaming, running and, at times, farting at a level of mayhem to tire even the most spazzed-out pre-K audience member. The bones rattle, the gelatinous ooze jiggles, the "Frankensteins" come apart at the seams and Adam Sandler does the world's worst Bela Lugosi. Every fifth joke is sly and self-referential (again, Robert Smigel) so parents with stamina will, by and large, be okay.
Is there a plot? Sure. Dracula (THE Dracula) is actually a good guy. A grieving widower and single parent, he builds a hotel for all his monster pals where they can retreat from humans, who, from their perspective, are horrible, dangerous creatures that want to "scoop out their brains and fill their empty heads with candy."
His daughter (voiced by Selena Gomez), however, just turned 118 and dreams of a life outside the hotel. Sandler's Dracula has no shortage of Ralph Kramden-esque schemes to keep her home after her birthday party, but when an actual human (voiced by Andy Samberg) shows up, the shenanigans ensue.
There are endless, frenetic set-pieces, but no amount of slapstick can keep Samberg and Gomez from falling in love. As the closing musical number puts it, the kids saw one another and "zinged." (Again with the Z words!)
There are no shortage of high concept animated films with top drawer comedians in the vocal booth, but 'Hotel Transylvania' ought to delight those who like their entertainment a little old school. The Hotel is more like a Catskills resort, replete with steam rooms and Bingo nights. Fran Drescher and Kevin James play Eunice and Frank N. Stein. The Invisible Man (David Spade) is terrible at charades. It's nonstop schtick from beginning to end and, as with most things even slightly Sandler-related, your mileage may vary.
One thing that is undeniable is the Tartakovsky edge. There's a sameness in many animated films today. Does the "look" of something like 'Megamind' or 'Despicable Me' really stay with you? The character designs in 'Hotel Transylvania' are, I feel, equally milquetoast, but the movement within the film is striking.
There is an exaggeration to the way everyone walks and gesticulates. There's the occasional disregard for physics and an overall alacrity on screen ensuring that there is literally never a dull moment. Fans of Tartakovsky ('Dexter's Laboratory,' 'The Powerpuff Girls,' 'Samurai Jack,' the good 'Clone Wars') will not at all be disappointed with what they see.
Listen: I am a very immature man. When I hear Adam Sandler as a bat go "bluh bluh bluh-bluh" something in my heart sings. So, on that level, I greatly enjoyed 'Hotel Transylvania.' I'll also admit that this movie felt like it was seven hours long. (It takes a really, really long time to prepare for that birthday party.) Special is the film that keeps you simultaneously entertained and bored, but this monstrous blend of dumb jokes and manic animation somehow does the trick. Bluh!
'Hotel Transylvania' opens in theaters on September 28th.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.