SEPTEMBER 28, 2012
I could have just gone to a neighborhood theater for a midnight Hotel Transylvania, but I have come to really like the 3D presentation at the Rave 18, which is like 25-30 minutes from my house (and longer tonight as there was an accident on the freeway). For a good 3D film, it's worth the gas (and 2 dollar parking - my other theaters are free), but alas the 3D for this particular entry in the growing "animated kids horror movie" genre was among the weakest I've seen - even some of the trailers beforehand were more impressive. Being that I'm not the target audience for the film, feel free to disregard everything else I say below, but I know 3D and this wasn't even remotely worth the extra 3 bucks (especially if you're bringing your kids).
The movie itself was fine. Again, it's aimed at folks who are at least 20 years younger than me, and there's no law that says every animated film has to appeal to the adults as well. If your kid likes fart jokes and the like, he/she will find plenty to enjoy here, but if you want something that works on "all ages" I would suggest opting for Paranorman or waiting for Frankenweenie (which I haven't seen, but have heard plenty of good things from folks I trust). For adults, there's only a handful of gags that might go over the 6-7 year olds' heads - the random jab at Twilight was a delight (even if this film is just as guilty at reducing the iconic nature of a vampire), and I particularly loved the strange bit where a sentient sponge seemed to be getting off as it was used to clean up a puddle of wolf pee.
In fact, that's kind of my weird issue with the movie - it's Adam Sandler and a bunch of his usual pals (Steve Buscemi, Kevin James, David Spade, and new cohort Andy Samberg), but precious little of their trademark scatological humor. I was hoping we'd get the Sandler who would see imaginary penguins and hang out with guys who are obsessed with touching people's feet, but it seems they didn't bring much to the table beyond showing up and recording their voices. None of his usual collaborators are among the five (!) people credited with the script, unless you count Robert Smigel, who probably did some work with him at SNL (this is his first writing credit on a Sandler film). In other words, despite the influx of familiar co-stars, this is not an animated Adam Sandler film - it's an animated film that happens to feature him.
However, it does share one trait with those movies - a nonsensical plot that only serves to string the gags together. It's a pretty hit or miss formula (more misses than hits as of late), and this one sadly is much closer to a miss, as the writers seemingly go out of their way to avoid any actual conflict or drive to their story. Any time something interesting is brought up, it's instantly resolved. Basically, Samberg's character is a human who wanders into the hotel one day, which sends Dracula (Sandler) into a panic because he has convinced his daughter that all humans want to do is kill them. So he has Samberg pretend to be a monster like his buddy Frankenstein (yep, it's a movie where they confuse the Monster for the doctor), but the kid falls for the daughter and thus threatens to expose his human nature, and that's pretty much it. There's no ACTUAL human villain, the daughter isn't in any real danger, and even Dracula doesn't seem particularly engaged in his own drama - within minutes he's basically Samberg's best friend, "surfing" through the castle on magic tables.
It also fails to give the other monsters anything to do. "Frank", the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, and the Mummy are in nearly every scene, but most of the time are just sitting around doing nothing beyond offering the occasional one-liner. When everyone arrives it seems like they'll have their own subplots - the Wolfman is being driven batty by his giant litter, Frank's wife nags him, etc, but these things never stretch beyond their initial setup, and serve just to give the actors something to do - you could cut them all out of the movie and it wouldn't make much of a difference until the climax, where they each get to do one little thing as they all make their way to try to stop Samberg from leaving. But the "Hotel" aspect, and even their monstrous nature, are completely wasted as the movie focuses on the generic love story and Dracula's realization that his little girl has grown up - why even risk losing some of the audience when you can just do the same exact story with, I dunno, a hotel for primates or something? Drac can be a baboon, Frank can be a gorilla, Mummy can be an ape... basically it feels like an extended pilot for a TV show about a hotel for monsters, where we're just learning who everyone is and setting up the world, before the series really begins and gets interesting.
From what I understand, this movie went through SIX directors, and it's worth noting that the three guys credited with the film's story aren't either of the ones credited with its screenplay, so this is clearly a movie that has been retooled and revised beyond any hope of being truly memorable. I don't mean to be a Pixar snob, but they are the only animation outfit who are consistently delivering something that you'll want to show your own kids someday - Sony, Dreamworks, FOX... their entries are just typical junk you throw on to distract the youngsters during long car rides or something, for the most part (that said, Dreamworks' Rise of the Guardians looks incredible). This is no different - it's cool to see all these monsters together with state of the art animation, and while they're just background characters there's a lot of great design work here to enjoy (the one time the 3D comes to life is during big crowd scenes), but the almost non-existent story and lack of any real laughs makes it a tough sell when there are superior horror-centric family options still out there. It held my attention, nothing more - but someone call me when they make that TV show!
What say you?