Why do recent Adam Sandler movies all seem to be overwritten and miss so many opportunities in their storytelling? Was it always like this? How long has this been going on? Are audiences just giving Sandler a pass on each successive mediocre film due to fond memories of Happy Gilmore? Sadly, Hotel Transylvania offers more of the same middling entertainment that gets the job done, but doesn’t even try to be clever, which is too bad since animation is fertile territory for doing just that.
In this animated family film, Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) is a single father, watching over his baby daughter, Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez). In order to protect her and all monster-kind, Dracula builds Hotel Transylvania where ghosts, ghouls and everything else that goes bump in the night can find refuge from the humans who try to stamp them out whenever they can. The hotel works as planned for over a century, becoming an annual vacation spot for monsters, like Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James) and his wife (voiced by Fran Drescher), the mummy (voiced by CeeLo Green), the invisible man (voiced by David Spade) and more. Mavis longs to see the world, however, and it’s all Dracula can do to convince her to stay within the safety of the hotel despite her being the equivalent age of a human teenager. Complicating matters is Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg), a young human traveler who happens upon the hotel and catches the eye of Mavis. Now Dracula must somehow nip the budding romance while safely sneaking Jonathan out past a cadre of monsters who simultaneously fear and hate humans.
The tone of the film teeters between whimsy and preachy. The first half of the film is jam packed with silliness as all of the monsters are introduced – and there are a lot of them, each with their own idiosyncrasies. Quasimodo is a demanding French chef who beats his kitchen staff. The hydra likes to bicker amongst its many heads. Big Foot is simply humongous and seems to be in the way all the time. It’s fun to see what each monster will do next and how Dracula reacts to their demands. As the film goes on, however, it slowly morphs into a story about generational acceptance, young love and forging one’s own path. While the first half may amuse younger audiences, the second half feels written for older audiences who won’t find anything new in the life lesson since they’ve already lived it.
It doesn’t help that there are too many characters in this film who are not as necessary to the story as their amount of screen time would denote. Outside of the Wolf Man, who contributes to the plot by removing an obstacle in a very wolf-like way, none of the other characters really put their defining characteristics to good use. Audiences won’t see Frankenstein pitching his head through an open window to deliver a crucial message. The mummy won’t create a lasso from his bandages to help scale a wall. The Invisible Man never employs his stealth to sneak past danger. Instead, the monsters simply exist as Dracula’s old buddies who can shoot the breeze with him. Think of all the extraneous family members and friends in any recent Sandler film and the similarities here will be disappointingly familiar.
Surprisingly, the more mature themes in the film are the most satisfying parts. Whereas the “after school special” aspects of Sandler’s recent live-action offerings always felt treacly, here the sentiments work flawlessly. Mavis’ desire to see the world and strike out on her own is very sympathetic, and to see her dreams crash is genuinely sad. Conversely, seeing Dracula’s overtures to repair his relationship with his daughter will swell hearts. Unfortunately, any children in the audience who enjoyed the first part of the film may wonder where their movie went during these portions.
Hotel Transylvania isn’t a long movie, but it’ll feel like it. There’s so much information given, audiences may feel exhausted digesting it all, only to discover that most of those tidbits have nothing to do with the story. Yet, there are many bright spots in the film, including sight gags with the Invisible Man, genuine and relatable paternal worry, and a hilarious allusion to modern vampire movies. Taken together, there’s just enough to warrant bringing the kids to see this film, especially with Halloween fast approaching. The film won’t necessarily teach children to not be afraid of monsters, but at least they’ll learn to accept a world where monsters exist.