"Hotel" Is Kid-Friendly Crash Course In Movie Monsters

To paraphrase the Supreme Court, I’m not sure how to describe the typical Adam Sandler film, but I know it when I see it. No matter how terrible his movies are, I usually find myself laughing at one point or another and each one seems to have at least one redeeming quality (Al Pacino’s bizarro performance in “Jack And Jill” comes to mind). Yes, the laughs are usually cheap and force a sort of embarrassment on the audience (I guess “shame” would be the proper term). But somehow, Sandler has come to walk an inexplicable line between hardest-working man in Hollywood (the rate at which he makes movies is borderline prolific) and laziest.

You couldn’t argue that Sandler has more than a handful of genuinely good films in his filmography, but he could (some would say “should”) have retired years ago. He obviously loves what he does, and the animated “Hotel Transylvania” – a passion project of his, six years in the making – is as unobtrusive as any film he’s ever made. It’s as rowdy as any children’s film out there, but it’s surprisingly delicate and warm and could mark a new chapter in Sandler’s career. I’m sure most moviegoers, young and old alike, would welcome a more subtle and imaginative Adam Sandler. This might be our first look.

While most of my preamble is necessary to put “Hotel Transylvania” into the proper context, it’s not that relevant to the film itself. At its heart, the picture is classic Saturday morning cartoon material, very silly and very much aimed at 5 year-olds. This isn’t a surprise because animation veteran Genndy Tartakovsky (“Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Samurai Jack”) directs – he worked on the picture for more than three years, half of its development cycle. The animation is familiar but sophisticated and the bouncy physics are appropriate for the film’s numerous madcap action sequences. In what is essentially “Monster Mash: The Movie,” Tartakovsky puts a unique spin on all of the classic movie monsters, and even introduces a few new ones.

The voice cast features plenty of Sandler’s buddies – Kevin James (Frankenstein’s Monster), David Spade (the Invisible Man), and Steve Buscemi (a Werewolf) – while Sandler himself voices Dracula. Of course, some of the characters are given generic names like Wayne and Murray to avoid copyright infringement with Universal’s monsters, but no matter. The iconic nature of the characters isn’t lost. Also in the fold is Cee Lo Green as The Mummy, Selena Gomez as Dracula’s rebellious (and, of course, gothic) teenage daughter, Mavis, and Andy Samberg as Jonathan, the human who happens upon Dracula’s abode. The titular Hotel is a sanctuary for monsters, all of which are societal outcasts, and Jonathan interrupts their yearly gathering.

The film’s humor is juvenile but not inappropriate for its audience. I can’t say that adults will get much out of the jokes, but there are a couple of entertaining gags, such as the Invisible Man ineffectually playing charades. Also, unlike this year’s “ParaNorman,” “Transylvania” isn’t too scary or depressing for kids, and tonally it’s in line with most animated films. It openly tugs at the heartstrings and contains some easily digestible lessons about inclusion and diversity and the importance of friendship. The second act is nonsensical fluff, but the film never quite became tedious for me. It should score well with its target audience and that’s all an adult can reasonably ask for from an animated comedy that doesn’t have the name Pixar attached to it. Especially from a wild card like Adam Sandler.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: September 28, 2012
Studio: Sony Pictures Animation
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Screenwriter: Don Rhymer
Starring: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Cee Lo Green, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz
MPAA Rating: PG (for some rude humor, action and scary images)