Vampires for ankle-biters
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, September 28, 2012
Part “Twilight” and part “Monsters, Inc.,” the animated feature “Hotel Transylvania” is a human-vampire love story set in a world where the monsters are more afraid of people than the other way around. The only really scary thing about it, though, is the casting, which reunites Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg from “That’s My Boy,” a shudder-inducing pairing for anyone who had to sit through that nightmare.
As Count Dracula, Sandler turns in a blandly unobjectionable -- if toothless -- performance, channeling Bram Stoker’s Carpathian bloodsucker as something closer to a kvetching Jewish butcher on the Lower East Side. As Jonathan, a young American backpacker who accidentally wanders into Dracula’s castle -- set up as a hotel for monsters seeking refuge from human persecution -- Samberg does his best to animate his innocuous persona. Hampered by an undistinguished voice and middling talent, however, the character barely registers. He could be anyone.
Selena Gomez brings a bit more personality to the role of Dracula’s daughter, Mavis, a “teenager” celebrating her 118th birthday while chafing at her father’s overprotectiveness. Of course, she and Jonathan fall in love, leading to -- well, not terribly much. Yes, there is some initial friction between Jonathan and Dracula, a widowed father who convinced himself that all humans are evil after his wife was killed by an angry mob. And then there’s a tiny bit more friction once Dracula realizes that Jonathan isn’t really such a bad kid but that his hotel guests might freak out if they discover a human among them.
Friction, yes, but not a whole lot of drama, suspense or tension, in a surprisingly tame screenplay by Peter Baynham (“Borat”) and Robert Smigel, a former writer for Conan O’Brien and “Saturday Night Live.” The comedy, such as it is, consists mainly of slapstick supernatural chase scenes and jokes involving poo, ectoplasmic goo and rear ends. “Hotel Transylvania” may offer a perfectly fine Halloween-themed getaway for young kids, but there aren’t many amenities for Mom and Dad.
As rendered by director Genndy Tartakovsky, a veteran of such Cartoon Network series as “Dexter’s Laboratory,” the monsters are cute, but nothing more. Drawn from the canon of classic Hollywood horror movies, they include the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), the Mummy (Cee Lo Green), Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), the Invisible Man (David Spade) and Frankenstein (Kevin James). It’s half the cast of “Grown Ups,” if that tells you anything.
There are some clever touches. The bellhops are all zombies, and the “Do Not Disturb” signs are all shrunken heads, voiced by the comedian Luenell, who brings a welcome sassy edge to the mostly bloodless proceedings. As in the “Twilight” books and movies, Dracula is a “friendly” vampire, avoiding actual human corpuscles for a heart-healthy synthetic substitute.
It’s something of a shame. “Hotel Transylvania” is entertaining enough for the trick-or-treat crowd, but a bit more bite wouldn’t kill it.
Contains mild bathroom humor and suggestiveness.