Release Date: 12th October, 2012
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi
Director Genndy Tartakovsky’s name may not be printed on every billboard in Hollywood, but most children of the late 80s/early 90s will certainly know of his work. The Russian-born animator is responsible for bringing a plethora of critically-acclaimed Cartoon Network programmes to life, including (although not limited to) Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack. With a bit of a legacy, as well as a decent cast of B-list celebrities, Hotel Transylvania marks the director’s first foray into theatrical 3D animation, and it’s good to see that his characteristic charm isn’t entirely lost in translation.
The film is a little piece of kiddie counter-programming, subverting expectations associated with familiar monsters and turning them into a friendly, oppressed community plagued by humanity. Dracula — voiced alarmingly well by Adam Sandler — builds Hotel Transylvania as a resort for monsters and lives on site with daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), who is about to celebrate her 118th birthday. Overprotective to the point of repressive, Dracula’s relationship with Mavis is tested when a human appears at the door of the hotel for the first time in over 100 years.
Tartakovsky’s signature angular, graphic novel-inspired approach to animation is missing from Hotel Transylvania. In its place is a comparatively safe aesthetic which closer approximates Sony Pictures Animation’s previous outings, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Arthur Christmas. The palette remains the obligatory dark grey however, punctuated nicely by deep purples, murky greens and flashes of red to ensure the kids don’t forget the spooky source material, and the 3D holds up pretty well (as it often does with animated films) if you’re into expensive family days out and eye strain.
Jokes come thick and fast throughout, with varying degrees of success. For every genuinely witty piece of referential humour that plays with the history of these legendary monsters, there’s at least two fart jokes or puns to bring the room back down to the level of its intended ‘U’ audience. This oscillation affects the narrative as well, which delves into some depressing territory involving the fate of Dracula’s beloved, before dropping the story altogether to play with flying tables and sing songs promoting chastity. As a result, sequences felt pretty disjointed and while the effort to engage both children as well as their chaperones is commendable, it did not feel as gracefully handled as other top-tier animated features.
Ignoring the obligatory, pseudo-Shakespearean, forbidden romance at the film’s core, there’s a good amount of fun to be had from the roll-call of monsters on screen. The characters animate sumptuously well, with a very obvious care paid to the shape, movement and detail of the models and whilst the dialogue can get pretty hammy, all of the voice actors perform admirably. Whether through the magic of editing or the recording process itself, interactions seemed to flow naturally and there was a decent amount of energy in line deliveries — particularly from Sandler, the mummified Cee Lo Green and a disgruntled Steve Buscemi. If there was one monster-sized bone to pick it would be that Kevin James is credited as ‘Frankenstein’ as opposed to ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’, further perpetuating an unnecessary confusion which has plagued generations of monster-fans since the beginning of time.
Digressions and clichés aside, Hotel Transylvania ends up a perfectly watchable affair and hopefully this isn’t the last we’ll see of Tartakovsky’s cinematic ventures. The plot can feel a little bit all over the place and the dialogue is aimed firmly at the younger audience members, but enjoyable performances combined with excellent animation make this an easy recommendation for those just looking for a bit of well-spirited fun this Halloween.