Where do classic movie monsters such as Frankenstein, Count Dracula and The Mummy go when they need to get away? And what happens when a younger night-creature raised in this so-called safe haven dreams of getting away, herself?
These are the chief questions asked and answered in Hotel Transylvania, hands down the funniest Adam Sandler comedy since … well, I’m tempted to say “ever.” Sandler and his cinematic posse – Kevin James, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Jon Lovitz, Andy Samberg – lend their voices to an array of conventional horror characters. But don’t mistake director Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated (in every sense of the word) feature for “Grown Ups with ghouls.” It’s far too clever and sweet for such a curt dismissal.
Sandler plays Dracula, a distrustful vampire who despises the human race because they hunted and killed his soul mate, leaving him to care for the couple’s only daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez). Eager to protect her from our bloodthirsty society, Drac constructs the titular resort somewhere in the mountains of Europe – a luxurious castle legendary creatures use as a getaway when they’re taking a break from terrorizing the citizens of the world.
On the eve of Mavis’s 118th birthday, all of Drac’s friends have arrived for a celebration: The lunkheaded Frankenstein (James); the exhausted Werewolf (Buscemi) and his animalistic children; Quasimodo (Lovitz); and The Invisible Man (Spade), to name just a few. But trouble tumbles through the door when slacker backpacker Jonathan (Samberg) finds the hotel – and strikes up a romantic relationship with the birthday girl.
At Comic-Con in July, Sony Pictures Animation hosted a Transylvania panel that, I initially thought, lacked star power. No Sandler. No James. No Gomez. As it turned out, no problem. Tartakovsky’s work on the animated series Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack have earned him a loyal army of supporters, and they’ll be thrilled with the energy and wit the director pours into his visuals. We’re in a period where Pixar Animation Studios (and its rivals) bring new levels of realism to the cartoon genre. Tartakovsky’s Transylvania is more animated in the cartoonish sense -- bending and stretching and testing the boundaries of physics like Bugs Bunny and his crew once used to do. Brave it is not, and that’s more than OK with me, particularly during a thrilling sequence involving flying tables in a grand ballroom. That, alone, is worth the extra price of a 3D ticket.
But man, and monster, can not live on manic animation alone. Thankfully, the clichés surrounding Tartakovsky’s classic creature characters provide an endless well of comedic inspiration for co-screenwriters Robert Smigel and Peter Baynham. Sometimes they’re goofy, as when everyone just assumes that Dracula always says, “Blah, blah, blah!” Sometimes they’re whip-smart, as when the Invisible Man tries to play charades, but everyone’s guesses are tied to his eyeglasses, as those are the only things we can see. There are more than enough of these strange little punch lines to ensure that audiences of all ages can and should book a trip to Hotel Transylvania once it opens in theaters.