Proof positive that the makers of "Hotel Transylvania" did not do their research: Frankenstein's monster is named Frankenstein. It's a small detail, but a crucial one for a film that takes its inspiration from vintage Universal creature features and, loosely, the classic literary works of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Lest younger viewers in the audience learn a little something along the way, director Genndy Tartakovsky and screenwriters Peter Baynham (2011's "Arthur Christmas
") and Robert Smigel (2008's "You Don't Mess with the Zohan
") are either content to provide dumbed-down information to the massesit is a wide misconception that Frankenstein is the actual resurrected creation rather than the scientist who invents himor they are hopelessly misinformed. This irksome aside notwithstanding, "Hotel Transylvania" is only sporadically diverting as far as computer-animated family films go, neither sharply written nor dramatically confident enough to compete against the upper echelon of such features. What it does compare to is Adam Sandler's last foray into animation2002's Hannukah-themed "Eight Crazy Nights
"if only for their similar mediocrity.
At Hotel Transylvania, there is available vacancy for ghouls, goblins, immortals and the otherworldly. Humans, on the other hand, are a big no-no, so when young backpacker Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg) shows up unannounced, Dracula (Adam Sandler) has to think fast in order to cloak his identity from the other guests (with a little powder and make-up, he transforms into Johnny Stein, cousin of Frank). Jonathan's arrival couldn't have come at a more inopportune time, either, with family and friends gathering together for a weekend of preparations leading up to the 118th birthday celebration of Dracula's adolescent daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez). Mavis, a vampire like her widowed father, has always dreamed of what life might be like amongst regular people outside the grounds of the hotel, and now that she is grown it's time for her to find out. The overprotective Dracula, however, fears a lack of acceptance of the angry mob and pitchfork variety and has secretly concocted a way for her to never want to leave home again. What he does not realize is that he has something else to toss and turn in his coffin about: Mavis has just met Jonathan, and she's fallen head over heels for him.
Lovers of gothic horror will be taken by the macabre imagery on display in "Hotel Transylvania," but they'll be just as disenfranchised by the watered-down treatment beloved characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein('s monster), the Wolfman and the Mummy receive. The film looks wonderful (in 2D, that is; the 3D version is useless, lacking noticeable additional depth and turning the moody color scheme into dull muddiness) and there is a plethora of inventive details, from the graveyard of the undead and the forest of ghosts out front to the broomstick-riding witches who work as hotel maids. What the makers show less interest in is an appropriate reverence to the famed characters and spooky archetypes they're taking on. Yes, the movie is treated strictly for laughs, but the vampires in this world don't seem to drink blood (let alone human blood) and only get a mild sunburn when they go out into the sun; the werewolves seem to be permanently hairy, full moon or not; and let's not even revisit the whole Frankenstein-naming screw-up. Viewed strictly as a silly pic for kids, the subject matter alone will no doubt hold attention spans, but the gags are rarely worth more than a vague smirk or smile. Furthermore, younger viewers will walk out having not been educated at all on the iconic figures they've just seen. They'd be better off checking out the far superior, infinitely cleverer 1987 gem "The Monster Squad."
Also problematic is the romance that arises between Mavis and Jonathan. It's not that their relationship isn't sweet in its own way (the love she feels is called a zing here, and "you only zing once in your life," claims the wise Frankenstein), but director Genndy Tartakovsky grossly overlooks the logistics of a vampire who will live forever going out with a mortal human. There is no mention of Jonathan having to give up his human life to be with Mavis, nor is it ever broached that Jonathan will have died before Mavis has reached the vampiric equivalent of middle age. As the film's end paves the way for a rocking musical number and the two lovebirds swoon all over each other, the underlying fact still remains that these two kids are in for a world of hurt and heartache, and sooner rather than later. Simply put, it's emotionally dishonest.
Despite a lot of obvious man-hours being put into its technical attributes, "Hotel Transylvania" otherwise has a slapdash feel that is not unlike the majority of Adam Sandler's live-action escapades. For long stretches, the movie loses sight of its heart as it turns into a ball of chaos, with characters running from room to room (and not in a fun, dippy "Clue" kind of way, either). To give credit where credit is due, there is a nice surprise at the start of the third act when Dracula and his crew are forced to go into town and face the human population, but by this point it is a little too late to turn things around. "Hotel Transylvania" wants to be a celebration of horror's golden age, but how can one hope to achieve this without doing their homework?