Producer/actor Adam Sandler's first animated feature since 2002's Hanukkah-themed "Eight Crazy Nights
," 2012's "Hotel Transylvania
" was a giant surprise hit, earning $358-million worldwide and instantly guaranteeing a sequel. A child-friendly movie turning many of Universal's classic horror charactersDracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy, etc.into cuddly, homogenized, wisecracking protagonists, the film came out at the right time (late-September, just as Halloween fever was getting underway) and, in doing so, captured its target audiences' interests. What it didn't have was a particularly knowledgeable script, botching the core traits that make up these figures' cinematic legacies. Thus, Dracula (voiced by Sandler) and 118-year-old adolescent daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) were vampires who apparently didn't need to suck blood to live and were threatened with little more than mild sunburns if they ventured outside during the daytime, while Frankenstein's monster was incorrectly called Frankenstein (the name of his mad-scientist inventor). Beyond the wayward education "Hotel Transylvania
" provided, it also had a chaotic, slapdash narrative and proved emotionally dishonest in its treatment of a happy-go-lucky romance between the immortal Mavis and human backpacker Jonathan (Andy Samberg).
In mounting a follow-up, returning director Genndy Tartakovsky and co-writers Sandler and Robert Smigel have righted some of their predecessor's missteps (an explanation for Frank's name is finally divulged) and concocted a far more appealing, socially conscious story. When the newly married Mavis and Johnny announce they are going to have a baby, Transylvanian hotel owner Dracula is overjoyed by the news. As his precocious grandson, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), develops from baby to toddler to a tyke one week shy of his fifth birthday, Dracula becomes concerned that he hasn't yet shown any signs of becoming a vampire. With Mavis and Johnny visiting Johnny's parents (Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman) in California as they figure out if they want to make the West Coast their permanent home, Dracula enlists pals Frank (Kevin James), werewolf Wayne (Steve Buscemi), invisible man Griffin (David Spade), mummy Murray (Keegan-Michael Key), and tagalong Blobby (Jonny Solomon) to accompany him on a tour of their old haunts in hopes that learning how to be a monster will turn Dennis into one. If Dennis hasn't grown fangs by his birthday party, Dracula will have to make amends with the reality of his mortal humanity.
Comedically fluffy but not inconsequential, "Hotel Transylvania 2" has an important, timely message to impart about acceptance and the dangers of narrow-minded prejudice. Dracula's arc, from a 539-year-old man who cannot imagine having a grandson who is not a vampire to one who gradually discovers there is very little that separates himself from the non-monster population, is earnestly and affectingly conveyed. If there is a tinge of disappointment in how this plot contradictorily resolves itself, the writing at least continues to positively stress a proclamation of tolerance. More valuable than novel, this moral throughline may not break new ground but it does reiterate a worldview that could certainly benefit both children and grown-ups.
Lest it sound as if the film is a politically motivated dissertation, "Hotel Transylvania 2" is also a surprising amount of fun. The two parallel storylinesboth Mavis and Johnny's adventures in California, and the trip Dracula secretly takes with his friends and grandson behind his daughter's backkeep things fresh, allowing for a wider scope and change of scenery away from the hotel. The humor is inspired, a roundup of sight gags (the Phantom of the Opera playing the organ while singing in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber), cleverly skewed situations (a GPS system voiced by Igor that spouts directions such as, "Turn right, you imbecile!"), and one-liners (a tourist who spots Dracula and says, "I love your chocolate cereal!") that play on simultaneous levels depending on one's age. Also amusing: a stop at Dracula's childhood summer camp, Mavis' eye-opening experiences in a place where she is suddenly in the minority, and the introduction of two spectacularly well-imagined new characters, Dennis' set-in-his-ways great-grandfather Vlad (Mel Brooks) and Vlad's creepy assistant Bela (Rob Riggle).
"Hotel Transylvania 2" is aesthetically moody and exuberant, just the right blend of dark and jestful to complement a computer-animated family picture birthed in genre lore. Little details, such as a background video advertisement for an arachnid-run spin class, signal that director Genndy Tartakovsky and scribes Sandler and Smigel were aiming to up their games rather than regurgitate an inferior sequel. Is Dennis going to take after his daddy and live life as a human, or will he be a vamp like his mommy, able to turn himself into a bat at a moment's notice? The answer to this question is arguably a creative misjudgment, but the filmmakers' hearts are in the right place all the same. More focused, imaginative and tightly paced than the scattered, less thoughtful original, "Hotel Transylvania 2" is a merrily ghoulish excursion sure to please fans of the series while winning over those who wished the first film
had tried a little harder.