28 October 2012

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania


C+

Hotel Transylvania 
2012, 91mins, U
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky 
Writer (s): Peter Baynham, Robert Smigel
Cast includes: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Cee Lo Green
UK Release date: 12th October 2012


“Hotel Transylvania” marks a bizarre merging of talents; celebrated Russian animator Genndy Tartakovsky with Hollywood’s most prevalent reprobate, Adam Sandler. Tartakovsky has cut his teeth on numerous televisual works over the last number of years, his contributions to cult favourites “Samurai Jack” and “Star Wars: Clone Wars” well known in geek circles, but “Hotel Transylvania” marks his first feature effort. On an aesthetic level the film upholds its potential, Tartakovsky’s visual talents stamped across most every sequence in the hyperactive picture, but unfortunately the script is an inconsistent disappointment. There are moments in which it manipulates the jazzy premise and wonderful voice cast gamely, but too often it plumps for an easy joke or dud gag. The rampant energy and vibrant look of “Hotel Transylvania” keep it fun, but the movie is at least one re-draft and another session in the editorial suite away from certifiable greatness.

Dracula (Adam Sandler) lost his wife at the hands of intolerant humans, and is adamant that his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) should not have to endure such a terrible fate. In order to protect his youthful spawn (she’s 118, which is positively juvenile for a vampire) Dracula has created a holiday resort for monsters named Hotel Transylvania. It is here that ghouls and goblins come to unwind, enjoying each other’s company with the threat of humanity removed. However when a wayward backpacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles into the hotel, he sets off Dracula’s alarm bells, not least because Mavis becomes enamoured with him.

The voice cast are exceptional. Sandler goes broad as Dracula and enjoys some success but around him others hit home run after home run. Selena Gomez is surprisingly sprightly and vulnerable as Mavis, suggesting that if her leading lady career refuses to take off there’s plenty of hope for her in the animation realm. Andy Samberg steals every scene he gets as enthusiastic moron Jonathan, rekindling some of the awkward chemistry he enjoyed earlier in the year alongside Sandler with “That’s My Boy”. Steve Buscemi as an exhausted werewolf leading around a pack of rabid kids was always going to work, but more shocking is how amusing the likes of Kevin James and Cee Lo Green are in modest supporting parts. Everybody gives it 100% here, which only makes the scripting deficiencies more frustrating.

The screenplay suffers more misses than hits, although admittedly even the bad jokes have an inoffensive naivety to them. The level of humour tends to be pretty pedestrian, bar a few nice visual gags there’s not a lot of comedic sophistication on show. The amped up vocal turns and recurrent slapstick interludes keep “Hotel Transylvania” lively, and nobody could accuse it of being heartless, but the storytelling feels languid and the punch lines often blunt. We’ve seen this sort of father/daughter dynamic explored many times before, and whilst the gothic setting applies a certain level of variety, the outcome and pratfalls amount to pure formula.

The animation style Tartakovsky deploys is distinctive and detailed. The character designs are striking and memorable, the filmmaker finding a nice habit of unearthing genuinely enjoyable material from the appearance of his Transylvanian landscape and its wacky inhabitants. Of course even his supremely gifted eye can’t overcome the mediocre screenplay, but it means the film is at least pleasant to stare at during its weaker segments. If you’re going to set through a stifled joke or ponderous portion of plotting it might as well be beautiful to gaze upon, which is an attribute “Hotel Transylvania” confidently boasts.

The animation game has opened up quite a bit recently. DreamWorks have upped their game very publically, and with 2011’s dreadful “Cars 2” and this year’s average “Brave” Pixar have notably dropped theirs. Sony Animation remains very secondary to either of those studios, and “Hotel Transylvania” is unlikely to change their stock much. It’s a fitfully funny farce, but plagued by enough problems to keep it only one baby step above tedium.   

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

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