Despite the impression that this is just one in a long line of forgettable CG comedy films, it was actually one of the best little Hallowe’en treats in a while. Sony is still getting on its feet as an Animation department, with The Smurfs not exactly well-received and Arthur Christmas (as well as The Pirates!) probably more closely associated with Aardman than with Sony, but this was a big step in the right direction. They took the wise decision of getting in someone with TV animation pedigree – Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack fame – and though his pedigree with CG feature-length films isn’t exactly glowing (The Clone Wars film), this is more in-keeping with the tone of his prior work.
And it was good. There were a few misfires – bad fart jokes, a rather underdeveloped scene where the main characters end up in a monster festival and a male romantic lead who it took a very long time for me to find likeable, but that’s far outweighed by what the film got right.
Icons of horror have long been prominent in comedic animation. From Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies through Count Duckula and Doctor Zitbag’s Transylvanian Petshop to last week’s Frankenweenie, the icons of gothic literature and Hammer Horror films are the right mixture of strong characterisation and silliness and basically write their own stories. And here’s one that’s a classic storyline but neatly 21st-century.
In the world of Hotel Transylvania, the monsters are terrified of the humans. Angry mobs and pitchforks have taken their toll, and Dracula himself lost someone very close to him. Retreating to an extremely well-hidden hotel, he raises his little daughter Mavis and keeps her so close she’s stifled. Though he promises her freedom on her 118th birthday, he keeps tight control even then, going so far as to have his zombie minions pretend to be pitchfork-wielding humans in a nearby village to give her the impression that they’re all out to kill monsters. However, when a happy-go-lucky young human called Jonathan finds his way to the hotel during a big birthday get-together, Dracula finds himself struggling to keep control.
Monsters bring with them lots of obvious humour – The Invisible Man is sensitive about things people can’t see, the Wolfman has doggy habits and a whole brood of uncontrollable welps, and Frankenstein’s monster for whatever reason has a very Jewish bride. Dracula here is a very entertaining character, immense power hidden behind a very daft, insecure and controlling personality, non-violent and only vaguely threatening and very likeable, which is not only a credit to his design and writing but to Adam Sandler’s performance. His daughter Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez (who I’m not sure I’ve seen in any of her Disney-related things or heard singing in any conscious way), was adorable in design, in character and in bat form, and it was cute that Sandler’s wife and daughter voiced the family in flashbacks.
The film’s mixture of humour and sentiment is a bit oddly-paced and free-wheeling, but that keeps things rolling along at an even keel and is in the spirit of the film’s message that controlling too much is bad and sometimes you should just enjoy yourself going with the flow. There were some random things, but most of them were also funny, like Dracula randomly throwing out a rap involving just about every possible rhyme for ‘Zing’, including ‘The Lion King’. That was one of the pop culture references thrown in there that might date the film very quickly, as well as a dig at Twilight – and I’m sure more than one viewer will make the comment that this was ‘still a better love story than Twilight’, which was certainly true.
Unlikely to go down in history as epoch-changing or essential viewing, this was still a very good example of a fun, family-friendly CG film with a few images that ought to endure.