“Hotel Transylvania” is slapstick-y fun for children, but the magic of the all-family cartoon alludes this one from Sony Animation. And as for turning monsters into funny creatures the film has been beaten to the punch of by “Monsters Inc.” quite a while ago and “ParaNorman” just this year.
The cartoon has tired blood. Animation studios are cranking out films so fast these days that you wonder if cartoonists are giving enough thought to story development. Here most of the ingenuity has gone into critter design.
Nonetheless, the cartoon directed by Genndy Tartakovsky has its funny moments. The voice cast seems to be having a ball bringing out the light side of many of cinema’s storied bad guys and critters.
The hotel in question, so hidden within haunted woods and spooky graveyards that no human has ever set foot in the establishment, was built by Dracula (voiced by exec producer Adam Sandler) specifically to protect his beloved daughter from human harm.
For the film’s take on these ghouls and goblins is that they desperately need sanctuary. From their point of view, the misunderstood monsters have been hunted and persecuted by bigoted humans down through the ages.
So for Drac the hotel is, yes, a spa retreat for the world’s maligned creatures but more importantly a place to safeguard his precious Mavis (Selena Gomez). As far his daughter is concerned though, at Hotel Transylvania you can check in any time but can never leave.
On the occasion of her 118th birthday, Mavis is sick and tired of her dad’s paranoid protection. She wants to get out in the world — and so what if she encounters a human. They may not even be monster hunters anymore!
But first Drac and daughter must entertain the clan: Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his bride Eunice (Fran Drescher and, yes, of course she’s a nag) arrive in the mail as it’s easier for them to ship in parts and then reassemble at their destination.
Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi in glorious put-upon form) arrives with his pregnant wife Wanda (Molly Shannon) and a brood of cubs that have positively worn him out.
The Invisible Man (David Spade) gets greeted by a “Nice to see you” while Murray the Mummy (CeeLo Green), dead for so many years, is nevertheless the life of the party.
Strictly speaking, the spa chef Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz) is not a monster but a human, but the film evidently gives special compensation to a Frenchman.
Then disaster strikes. A human manages to find his way to Hotel Transylvania. Jonathan the backpacker (Andy Samberg) further terrifies Drac when Mavis takes a liking to this human.
So the movie turns into a masquerade wherein Drac disguises Jonathan and his flaming red hair as a distant cousin of one of Frankenstein’s arms. Jonathan gets into the spirit of the spa and soon all the monsters love him — including Mavis.
Now if Drac can only keep Quasimodo from the goal of grilling his first homo sapien.
The film is rife with gags. There are jokes about Frankenstein’s detachable parts, the more disgusting menu choices such as worm cakes and slug soup and the nascent musical talents of the monsters.
The film shrugs off the monsters’ more traditional bad habits by insisting that, for instance, its vampires no longer quaff human blood but rather substitutes such as Blood Beaters.
And the werewolves and their furry progeny look more like creatures from early Disney cartoons. About the only rude thing here are monster farts, always sure giggle material for young ones.
The film written by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel (from a story by Todd Durham and Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman) relies too heavily on its many gags, however, and too little on its story and potentially intriguing characters. The CG animation is spritely and colorful and for once the 3D actually seems to help out a bit.
Fun monsters rather than scary ones is not a new idea any more. (Come to think of it, Abbott and Costello discovered this eons ago.) So you wonder why Tartakovsky and his team didn’t think outside the coffin to create a more innovative fractured fairy tale.
“Hotel Transylvania” has room enough to accommodate millions of young viewers, but their parents and minders might have liked something a little more rude and edgy to tickle their funny bones.
Ah well, they have Tim Burton’s “Frankenweene” waiting in the wings. So there’s hope!
Opens: September 28, 2012 (Columbia Pictures)
Production companies: Sony Pictures Animation
Voice Cast: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, CeeLo Green, Jon Lovitz, Brian George
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Screenwriters: Peter Baynham, Robert Smigel
Story by: Todd Durham, Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman
Producer: Michelle Murdocca
Executive producers: Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, Allen Covert
Production designer: Marcelo Vignali
Visual effects supervisor: Daniel Kramer
Art directors: Ron Lukas, Noelle Triaureau
Character designers: Carter goodrich, Carlos Grangel, Craig D. Kellman
Head of story: Kaan Kalyon
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Editor: Catherine Apple
PG rating, 91 minutes