Feb 15, 2013

Continental Film Club: Hotel Transylvania (2012)

Anemic and predictable, but not awful.

Thanks to an incredibly aggressive marketing campaign, T's been hankering for this "grampire and wolfy" movie since November. Especially because of the little girl werewolf on the poster, who is just "so, so cute!"

The more I read up on the film, the more my enthusiasm waned. I am not a fan of Adam Sandler (who produced the film and voices Dracula), and the initial reviews only reinforced my skepticism. But then again - I guess that this film is what people of Sandler's means do by way of making customized entertainment for his own kids, a higher-budget version of bedtime stories. "Now imagine we're all vampires, running a place called 'Hotel Transylvania,' and our friends are monsters who come to visit..."

So at it's best, the film is sleekly animated and harmless (though since Frankenstein's monster is called "Frankenstein," that factoid is perpetuated), teaching at its heart a general lesson of accepting differences and learning to let go. Dracula has been overprotective of his almost-of-age daugther Mavis since his wife died at the hands of humans and built the eponymous hotel to provide a safe haven for ghoulish creatures. When (human) backpacker Jonathan gets lost at the hotel, Dracula disguises him as a monster to keep the other guests from panicking - a plan doomed to fail when Jonathan and Mavis fall in love at first sight.

However, besides the "when will they find out Jonathan is a human" tension, and then the "how will Mavis and Jonathan get together?" tension, the stakes are incredibly low - there isn't anything else driving the movie (and though the film gently mocks the Twilight franchise, they do share some fundamental similarities). And ultimately, the world of Hotel Transylvania isn't imbued with enough imagination or developed characters to make up for that fundamental shortcoming (for instance: what do the monsters do when they're not at the hotel - do they hide? Do they scare people?). There is, however, an upside to this: the film is decidedly unscary.

Several reviewers concluded their scathing write-ups saying that it's "entertaining enough for the trick or treat crowd" (WaPo). But though the four kids I took to the see the film (ages 3 to 8) all liked it, I don't subscribe to the philosophy that kids' movies have somehow lower standards to fulfil. The best kids' movies speak to more than their intended age group (and I'm not talking about films that shove in as many double entendres as possible so that the adults guffaw while the younger kids ask "why is that funny?"). Hotel Transylvania's own stable, Sony Pictures, put out the extremely well-done Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs a few years ago, and there are plenty of other examples even without going to the Pixar or Anime well.

Ultimately, the film's mediocrity didn't prevent it from being a box office success - and the sequel is already being developed. T, at least, is genuinely looking forward to it, and I wonder if she'll still be a fan.

Photos from the film's official website.

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