Friday, September 07, 2012


(USA, 2012)
Cast: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Adam Samberg, Seth Rogan, CeeLo Green, Steve Buscemi, John Lovitz, Fran Drescher
Written by: Peter Baynham & Robert Smigel
Directed by:  Genndy Tartakovsky

My first screening of TIFF 2013 was also my first of six 3D features(and the first of three in a single day) throughout the ten-day event.  I arrived too late for the 8:30 am "Pusher" remake, so my only other option was the decidedly-different "Hotel Transylvania" (not based on the little-known 1978 Chelsea Quinn Yarbro novel), intriguing because it marks the feature debut of the wonderfully iconoclastic Russian animator Genndy Tartakovsky, whose television efforts "Dexter's Lab", "Samurai Jack", and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" are better than the medium regularly offers, or deserves...

As a "monster kid" of the 70s (Aurora kits, Uncle Forry, Frankenberry cereal, and all that) I was immediately sold on the inventive premise:  Count Dracula (Sandler), eschewing bloodsucking for the life of a single  and overprotective "helicopter" dad after the early death of his wife at the hands of mortals, decides the safest bet for his daughter Mavis (Gomez) is to build a refuge.  He does so in the form of a massive, opulent hotel--a retreat for monsters of all shapes and sizes--and on the eve of Mavis' 118th birthday, his many friends--including loose-limbed Frank N. Stine (James) and his bride (Drescher), The Invisible Man (Spade), The Blob, The Mummy (Green), Quasimodo (Lovitz) and a beaten-down salarywolfman (Buscemi) and his ever-expanding litter of ankle-biting lycantots (real scene-stealers)--check in to enjoy some quality time away from the perils of the human world. 

But a clueless backpacker, Jonathon (Samberg) accidentally stumbles on the premises and immediately catches the eye of Mavis, who has never seen a human.   She  agrees to disguise him as a monster—specifically, a cousin of one of Frank’s limbs—and for the most part, they get away with it.  While inside, Jonathon enjoys the company of zombie bell hops and talking shriveled-head door knockers--but when Mavis boldly ventures into the outside world, Jonathon must maintain his disguise to protect her from the perils of sunrises, pitchforks, and torches, and get her back before her father finds out...

It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of flatulence jokes, because, you know, it’s what Stoker and Shelly would have wanted if they hadn’t been writing in such conservative times…

And oh, those celebrity voices!   Ever since "A Shark's Tale" I've had a nagging tick about the impulse to cast "familiar" voices in richly dimensional and textured animated worlds within which I prefer to completely disappear.   Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Selina Gomez, CeeLo Green...none of them particularly terribly, really, remember when Phil Harris--hardly a teen idol in his day--was good enough for Baloo?

As a computer-generated feature, of course it looks different than Tartakovsky's signature works,, but it offers inspired twists on classic horror characters,  although nothing on par with MAD Magazine genius Harvey Kurtzman's designs for Rankin-Bass’ stop-motion “Mad Monster Party”. 

There are several inspired moments--most notably, when Dracula and Jonathon enjoy an airborne race around the spacious dining room atop floating tables.  There's also a very funny, unexpected, and entirely welcome "Twilight" joke that more than makes up for many of the corny one-liners and sitcom sentiment. 

Unfortunately, the film falls victim to the plight of every other CG-animated feature NOT produced by Pixar: overstuff with celebrity voices, and when in doubt, end the damn thing with a grating, forgettable sing-a-long, while the characters revel in having learned a valuable lesson in "tolerance", hug and champion “the importance of family” etc. etc.   Noble sentiments, sure, but can’t the writers of SNL's "TV Funhouse" and "Borat" come up with anything better than a crappy rap number (hell, I would've welcomed a hip-hop remix of Bobby Pickett's "Monster Mash"...well, maybe not...)?  To paraphrase another famous Russian: If in the first act you introduce Selena Gomez, does she HAVE to warble a song in the last act?

©Robert J. Lewis 2012