Director Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack) introduces audiences to the latest and rather unfortunate spin on the classic exemplar of vampire legends, Dracula. Instead of stalking the night for warm-blooded victims and beautiful young women, this modern-day Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) is presented in a kid friendly package along with a menagerie of monster movie icons.
A grieving widower and doting yet overprotective father, Dracula, launches plans for the realization of Hotel Transylvania in the year 1895. The opening scene paints the legendary vampire’s historically menacing character into the heartwarming picture of a single dad who decides to devote his time and energy into raising his only remaining family member in what is essentially a human-proof Moses basket. In addition to overseeing the construction of this fortress, Dracula spends his nights practicing the enviable skill of diaper-changing magic, as well as composing lullabies on the ukulele. As the years pass, little Mavis Dracula (Selena Gomez) proves to be a headstrong, curious child with a knack for walking on walls and turning into a bat. Her early attempts at exploring the outside world are cut short by her father with the warning, “We never go out there…ever.”
Once the castle is safely tucked away behind four hundred acres of haunted forest and a graveyard chock full of undead, the story jumps forward to present day, just in time for Mavis’s 118th birthday. Dracula’s home now doubles as a luxury resort for vacationing monsters, all of which are invited from various corners of the human-infested world for the celebration. Contrary to Mavis’s initial misgivings, daddy dearest appears to be at peace and even enthusiastic about his daughter’s imminent independence; in fact, he suggests a nearby human village for her first foray into the new world. It’s no secret that fathers about to lose their daughters to the world of adulthood are either shouting hallelujah for the sweet taste of freedom, or immobilized with fear for said daughter’s innocence. Dracula proves to take the latter route, though he’s far from immobilized. He masterminds a setup involving a staged village, an angry mob of hotel staff disguised as humans, and waving pitchforks and fiery torches (and garlic bread). Shockingly enough, Dracula’s desperate scheme is a success, and upon returning home, Mavis vows never to leave again. Because, of course, that will last.
Predictably, Dracula’s jubilation is short-lived. An unexpected breach in security comes in the form of 21-year-old human backpacker Jonathan, and quickly sends Dracula into a mad scramble to conceal the young man from his monstrous guests. Complicating matters are overzealous chef-in-residence Quasimodo, who would love nothing more than to prepare a gourmet dish of roasted human, and a distressing (for Dracula) wave of amorous attention from the birthday girl herself.
What potentially makes this an appealing movie for children is the strong emphasis on the importance of family, as well as the utter lack of “fear factor.” Of the handful of recent, monster-themed children’s movies, “Hotel Transylvania” is the only one that dismisses the more macabre touches favored in this genre. Parents may consider this the shallow end of the kids’ horror pool. The humor relies heavily on visual gags revolving mainly around excrement and body parts, which can be expected to send younger viewers into giggles, but older audiences would be hard-pressed to glean any solid wit from the weak dialogue.
My main issue with “Hotel Transylvania” is how the cast of much-publicized monsters—among them being Wayne and Wanda (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon) the happily married werewolves with a wagon-load of pups, Murray the mummy (Cee Lo Green), the Invisible Man (David Spade), Frankenstein’s monster (Kevin James), erroneously referred to as
“Frankenstein” or “Frank,” his bride Eunice (Fran Drescher), and a slapdash train of aimless plot devices attempt to cover up underdeveloped characters and flimsy conflict. A
ny tension derived from Dracula’s fear of losing his daughter and guests is lost in what feels like a never-ending shuffle of scenes that involve the vampire and Jonathan running through the castle for no good reason. You would think that after a century, Dracula would know every nook and cranny of his own home that he meticulously designed with the intent of cloistering his precious daughter. The poorly executed plot of “Hotel Transylvania” cheapens the more somber scenes, including those that reveal Dracula’s tragic past.
Barring the storytelling itself, the soundtrack for this movie is a real treat, composed of cringe worthy techno-pop numbers with words that would sound ridiculous even coming from a child’s mouth. It saddens me that we live in a generation where it’s cute for little kids to sing along to, “I just do what I does” or “Baby chillin’ in my cockpit, my spaceship got exotic, women trippin’ ‘cause my whip hypnotic.” You can thank Becky G and Will.I.Am for those inspiring lyrics.
On a final note, I found it ironic for Dracula to mourn the modern-day representation of vampires in pop culture when he himself is a sad caricature of the legend. “Hotel Transylvania” (while decidedly kid friendly) will likely make for a painful hour-and-half in theaters if you’re above the age of ten. That aside, it will probably make a popular DVD rental for parents and babysitters who are looking for a temporary solution to the noisy kid problem at home.