At first glance the prospects for the latest animated offering from Sony Pictures are quite bleak. The only pedigree lauded on the poster ‘from the studio that brought you The Smurfs’ suggests this film could be doomed to mediocrity. A closer inspection does offer some hope. Boasting a formidable cast and directed by Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack and Star Wars: The Clone Wars) there is certainly potential.
The story largely centres on Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) who, having lost his wife to an angry mob swears to protect his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) forever. To this end he builds a sanctuary for monsters everywhere. Hidden in a ‘spooky’ forest and surrounded by the land of the undead this sanctuary is the Hotel Transylvania. Monsters of all shapes and sizes can come to holiday in the luxurious castle and take refuge from the dreadful humans who are, as taught by the count, the real monsters. Given the opportunity, they will stop at nothing to destroy the count and his friends.
We join the story on the eve of Mavis’ 118th birthday, for which a large celebration is being planned. In attendance are all the counts friends; Uncle ‘Frank’ Frankenstein (Kevin James), Wayne the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Griffin The Invisible Man (David Spade), Murray the Mummy (CeeLo Green) and their respective other halves. All is going according to plan until both the party and the safety of the hotel are threatened when hapless human backpacker Jonathan (Andy Samberg) follows some of Dracula’s minions back to the monsters’ haven. After a failed attempt to sneak Jonathan out of the hotel unnoticed, the Count is forced to disguise the intruder as a monster himself. Dracula invents increasingly elaborate explanations ultimately introducing Jonathan as ‘JohnnyStein’ the cousin of Frankenstein’s right arm and a party planner there to help with the festivities to honour Mavis. Much to the ire of Dracula, Johnny quickly gains the admiration of the monsters due to his carefree nature, and even wins the heart of Mavis herself with his tales of the world beyond Hotel Transylvania, before he is ultimately revealed as an imposter.
From the outset there are some cheap laughs that will certainly appeal to the younger audience but the film suffers throughout by failing to choose a target demographic or appeal equally to several. Whereas titles such as Toy Story succeeded in pleasing children while simultaneously appealing to the adults who are accompanying them, Hotel Transylvania seems to flip flop between the two goals. Some of the more childish humour seems forced and without real substance, largely focusing on slapstick sight gags and the consumption of disgusting foods such as pancakes filled with worms. On the other hand some of the more mature jokes border on the macabre or are simply throwaway lines at the end of scenes which are easily missed. The plot also seems to lose direction after the initial exposition, settles into clichés and unconvincingly meanders towards a third-act resolution. Despite the flailing narrative there are some real gems in the script. Sandler carries his character’s neuroses expertly and the scenes with Samberg will likely bring a smile to your face if not a chuckle from your lips.
Hotel Transylvania lacks the universal appeal or emotional resonance of a Pixar title but it is by no means a bad film. There is plenty on offer to keep children entertained although adults may be a tad bored by the time the credits roll.
Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Hotel Transylvania is released on 12th October 2012