Sony Pictures Animations’ “Hotel Transylvania” cost an estimated $85 million to make and it broke even shortly after its second week in theaters . . . a big reason why there’s already a “Hotel Transylvania 2” in the works.
The animated monster film from first-time feature film director Genndy Tartakovsky (“Star Wars: The Clone Wars”) received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Feature Film, but frankly, that surprised me.
Why? Because “Hotel Transylvania” resembles a Saturday morning in almost every respect. It’s pitched at children under 10, the animation and drawing looks like the kind you’d see on TV, the same sort of humor you’d see on the small screen pops up (albeit with some cheap butt and potty jokes that are more common to the more common theatrical comedies), there’s the kind of momentary mugging for the camera and spontaneous singing that characterizes TV cartoons, the Foley effects are exaggerated, and the jokes seem “easy” rather than clever.
I found myself laughing only when people tried out their Dracula impersonation in front of the Count and it went something like, “I vant to suck your blood, blah blah blah,” while Dracula sputtered, “I don’t say BLAH BLAH BLAH!” Otherwise, I’d be hard-pressed to recall jokes that had some adult appeal—at least among the written gags. There’s some tongue-in-cheek humor to be found in the details and backgrounds, such as Dracula’s Romanian license plate, but even those aren’t laugh-out-loud funny.
The screenplay from Peter Baynham (“Arthur Christmas”) and Robert Smigel (“SNL,” “Happy Gilmore”) stays pretty close to the clichéd story of an overprotective father trying to deal with his daughter’s growing independence and maturity and a would-be suitor who comes into the picture. But the way it’s handled isn’t nearly as funny or as adult-oriented as, say, Steve Martin’s “Father of the Bride.” The film almost seems to be undercutting itself at every turn—and I’m not just talking about the songs that seem randomly inserted. When, for example, the Count opens up to his daughter’s suitor and the two of them share a moment in a turning point, the “bond” is sealed with a bit of silliness that, again, smacks more of Saturday mornings than awkward one-armed guy hugs.
“Hotel Transylvania” begins with a segment showing the Count (voiced by Adam Sandler) building his hotel as a refuge for monsters, far away from the ravages of intolerant civilization. We suspect right away, since he’s a single dad, that his beloved ran afoul of the local pitchfork and torches rabble, and after a predictable montage showing his developing relationship with his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), the focus turns to day to day operations of the hotel and preparations for his daughter’s big birthday bash—with the only digression an attempt by the Count to construct a fake town so she can visit humans, as she wishes.
Zombies tend to dominate, though, with the main monsters rendered in a more cartoonish style reminiscent of the old Hanna-Barbara cartoons. Frankenstein (Kevin James) looks like a happy Macy’s float, while his Bride (Fran Drescher) is also drawn in a softer, more rounded style than the zombies. Murray the Mummy (Cee Lo Green) looks like he’s been eating a lot of scarabs, and Wayne and Wanda Werewolf (Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon) look like characters out of “The Berenstain Bears,” with the only threatening thing their gazillion werewolf kids who can turn nasty on a dime. Rounding out the cast are Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), The Invisible Man (David Spade), who’s only a pair of glasses floating around, and a host of other soft-looking (gelatinous, even) monsters.
The Count’s hotel has been a success for more than a century because he guarantees the safety of his patrons. But when a goofy, disoriented backpacker (Andy Samberg) turns up at the castle, the Count reacts the same as when Boo entered the monster world in “Monsters, Inc.” He panics, he tries to cover it up by applying stitching make-up and trying to pass the 21 year old off as another Frankenstein’s monster.
But the writers seem to waste one opportunity after the next, not knowing how to block scenes with the monsters to provide humor away from the main action and not really coming up with jokes that aren’t just low-hanging fruit. And the writers’ wasted opportunities ultimately become an audience’s waste of time.
“Hotel Translyvania” is rated PG for “some rude humor, action and scary images.” I’m not sure what scary images they’re talking about, though, because of the three main animated monster movies that came out in 2012, this one is more suitable for young children than “ParaNorman” or “Frankenweenie.”
I’ll say this: “Hotel Transylvania” looks good. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer is impeccable, with brilliant color saturation, edges that have plenty of pop, and fluid animation, with no evidence of artifacting or other compression issues. It’s presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and is also available in a 3D version.
The featured audio is an English DTS-MA 5.1, with additional audio options in French or Portuguese DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. It’s a fairly dynamic audio that makes full use of the surround speakers, and I don’t just mean for quiet ambient sounds. The effects speakers are really active at times. Dialogue is clear, the bass has a presence, and tonally it seems richer than the Saturday morning style of animation.
This is the Blu-ray combo pack, which includes a DVD and Ultraviolet copy. Also here is an animated short by Tartakovsky, “Goodnight, Mr. Foot,” as in Bigfoot, who checks into Dracula’s hotel, where he encounters an overzealous witch/maid.
If you’re into commentary tracks, there’s one featuring Tartakovsky, producer Michelle Murdocca, and visual effects supervisor Daniel Kramer that covers all the bases.
The rest of the bonus features are shorter. There’s a “Problem” music video by Becky G featuring Will.I.Am, and a behind-the-scenes look at making the music video. Then there are three deleted scenes (“Prologue,” “Shadows,” “Caught in the Act”) that have a play-all option. More DVD-ROM features were promised, but maybe they’re not online yet, because I couldn’t access anything.
The basic bonus features repeat on both the DVD and Blu-ray, with the following appearing only as Blu-ray exclusives:
“Meet the Staff and Guests: Voicing Hotel Transylvania,” that walks you through the voice talents, and “Making the Hotel: The Animation Progression Reels,” that show you the process.
There’s a good chance that children under 10 will find “Hotel Transylvania” entertaining, because it’s as non-threatening as can be and the jokes are obvious. There’s an equally good chance that everyone else will wander off to find something else to do besides watch this expanded, uninspired Saturday-morning clone.