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Overall Rating

Awesome: 15.79%
Worth A Look47.37%
Average: 31.58%
Pretty Bad: 5.26%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Hotel Transylvania
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by Jay Seaver

"Genndy Tartakovsky's 'Dracula'. (OK, Adam Sandler's, too)"
4 stars

Rule of thumb: A good Adam Sandler movie means that Sandler has opted to step away from the assembly line and work with a noteworthy director. This year, it's Genndy Tartakovsky of "Samurai Jack" and "Dexter's Laboratory" fame making his feature debut with a zippy but fun animated feature.

"Hotel Transylvania" is no ordinary hotel; built in 1895 by Count Dracula (voice of Adam Sandler), it is meant to serve as a refuge from the human world for monsters of all kinds. Every year, it's host to a lavish birthday party for Dracula's daughter Mavis (voice of Selena Gomez) - Frankenstein (voice of Kevin James), Wayne the Wolfman (voice of Steve Buscemi), Murray the Mummy (voice of CeeLo Green), the Invisible Man (voice of David Spade), and more come. This year, though, there's an uninvited guest - Jonathan (voice of Andy Samberg), a human backpacker who stumbles onto the hotel just as Dracula is trying to find a way around his promise that Mavis could leave to see the world when she turned 118.

It's not hard to imagine Hotel Transylvania as an animated television series along the lines of Tartataovsky's Dexter's Laboratory; it's got a big, genial cast of broad characters, tells simple jokes, many visual, and doesn't care too much about how well its world fits together. Those aren't faults, though - it's a movie made for kids, who will likely seldom find themselves bored as the story bounces from one gag to the next without ever getting too complicated that they lose track of the basic things it's trying to say ("monsters" are just different sorts of people who are as scared of you as you are of them, and while parents sometimes try too hard to keep you safe, they will eventually learn to trust).

And the simple jokes are, by and large, pretty funny. There's a fair amount of banter between the celebrity voices, sure, and the eary fart and pee jokes are not encouraging, but Tartakovsky and the five credited writers deliver a steady stream of quality visual gags. This really is a feature-length cartoon that goes for visual punchlines over verbal ones; one of the funniest gags, for instance, has Dracula pulling the giant rubber stopper from the bottom of the hotel's swimming pool and then silently, begrudgingly, making sure Jonathan doesn't splat from his impossibly-exaggerated high dive. It's Chuck Jones-style stuff, and while this doesn't ever manage to reach the sublime levels of slapstick that Jones at his best managed, it is an impressively steady stream of chuckles.

Part of the reason for that is just good comic timing - both Tartatovsky and co-writer Robert Smigel know how those beats work - but an appealing cast of characters helps. The main ones are fairly well-designed and voiced, especially the kids: Samberg gives Jonathan an unbridled curiosity and delight at discovering new things that's a perfect match for the wide eyes and soft, rounded form the animators give his character. Selena Gomez's voice is charmingly innocent but never close to stupid, while Mavis's character design has a goth color scheme but a cute girl-next-door look (she's probably exactly the sort of girl someone backpacking across Europe would want to meet). Drac, it must be said, can't escape looking like Count Chocula - there's only so many ways to start from Bela Lugosi and get to something huggable - but the details are handled well - the animators make sure his skinny-legged cartoon character gait looks like gliding from certain angles, and Sandler actually goes kind of easy on the accent, allowing him to give this character a personality rather than just be a funny voice. It's worth noting that there's really not an unpleasant, "villainous" character in the movie until a Jon Lovitz-voiced Chef Quasimodo is pushed into that role toward the end (and even then, he's not particularly malicious); the plot runs on the monsters' imagined fears more than an external threat.

It's also a pretty well-polished production, too, although it doesn't go for the same sort of slick, detailed aesthetic Pixar and Dreamwork films do. The animation style is the CGI equivalent of the thick black lines and jumps between minimal and extreme emoting of Dexter's Laboratory, and the story and gags are not exactly multi-layered or subtle. Still, the animation is smooth and Tartatovsky and company use 3D space well, both during the obvious scenes (the inevitable mid-air chase) and the less flashy ones (Drac and Jonathan walking through the tunnels below the hotel).

"Hotel Transylvania" isn't sophisticated or ambitious, but it's funny throughout and pretty kid-friendly. It's happy to be a feature-length cartoon as opposed to trying to be all things to all people, and since that what Tartakovsky and Sandler's crew are good at, it may be better than one expects.

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originally posted: 10/02/12 12:10:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/24/13 KingNeutron Totally hilarious, and great acting! :) Fun for the whole family. 5 stars
8/01/13 Suzie Williams Loved it! Cute, funny, and pretty decent story. 5 stars
3/21/13 Charles Tatum Hyperactive, and often funny 4 stars
2/11/13 Mami2jcn Pretty good...was surprised I liked it. 4 stars
10/05/12 mike miller Very clever my daughter loved it 4 stars
10/02/12 scott maxwell loved it 5 stars
9/29/12 Ko ko oo Very good 2 stars
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  28-Sep-2012 (PG)
  DVD: 29-Jan-2013


  DVD: 29-Jan-2013

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