Sunday, January 4, 2015

Hotel Transylvania

Hotel Transylvania is an interesting film in terms of its history. Over the course of its production, taking place across several years before its final 2012 release, the project went through a few directors until finally Genndy Tartakovsky, the sixth and final director, would be brought in to finish it. Since I knew of Tartakovsky through Samurai Jack, Dexter’s Laboratory and the Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoon from 2003, I became somewhat curious about Hotel Transylvania, although Adam Sandler receiving top billing also had me a little worried (I think he can be really funny, but relies too much on appealing to the lowest common denominator). Still, I wouldn’t really have a chance to see it until after Christmas in 2014 (which I must now refer to as “last year”) to find out if it was actually any good. In some ways the movie was better than I thought it would be, but there are still some setbacks.

Over 100 years ago, Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) created Hotel Transylvania, a hotel deep within the dark forest of Transylvania where monsters can find refuge from hostile humans. In the present day, it is the 118th birthday of Dracula’s daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), and he wishes to make it her best birthday ever while at the same time discouraging her from interacting with the outside world. His plan is going smoothly until a 21-year-old human drifter named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) manages to wander inside. Dracula manages to keep the other monsters from noticing, but the situation worsens when Mavis and Jonathan, in disguise, begin to have feelings for each other. Now Dracula must try to prevent the two from falling in love while doing whatever he can to prevent the hotel’s residents from finding out that Jonathan is a human, which could jeopardize the future of the hotel.

Jonathan's arrival puts a wrench in Dracula's plans.

The story is paced pretty well and doesn’t waste much time developing itself. Dracula’s conflicts as a father and keeping Jonathan’s identity a secret are intertwined and drive the story forward in a way that feels meaningful, but the rest of the movie doesn’t feel as well done. The monster’s fear of the humans is ever-present, but only comes up from the hotel residents every once in a while until the third act, when it really feels important. Additionally, there’s really only one character, Quasimodo, who can be considered a villain, but his scenes don’t really amount to anything and he might as well have been cut from the movie. I feel like this may have been an artifact from earlier versions of the movie, one which Tartakovsky probably couldn’t iron out. On another note, it’s rather interesting how this movie features what is essentially a gathering of all the Universal movie monsters, even weaving in a lot of the mythology from their classic films, yet this occurs in a movie made by Sony.

Another artifact, or rather what can be seen as the stamp of Adam Sandler, is the unnecessary amount of crude humor, especially in the first act. I feel they could easily have cut out these instances, most of which involve bodily functions, and not really affect the flow of the movie at all. Apart from this type of humor, there are some genuine moments of hilarity to be found, though I didn’t really laugh out loud the whole time. These moments are also balanced with more dramatic or touching moments, though I didn’t really feel completely invested on an emotional level. I understood what Mavis and Jonathan were going through when trying to develop a relationship, but I personally wasn’t engaged.

Jonathan (left) and Mavis (right) have good chemistry, but it wasn't too engaging.

What’s really good about this movie is the highly expressive animation. Though created in CG, it has the feeling of traditional animation, specifically of the more cartoonish variety, with classic squash and stretch animation. The art style doesn’t feel like the more recognizable Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks styles, but rather that of Genndy Tartakovsky translated to three dimensions while still appearing to have weight. This art style also allows for plenty of detail to appear in the characters and backgrounds, so if one were to look for something new, they might find it.

It can be difficult to discuss the minutia of voice acting, but for this film I think everyone did a good job. Adam Sandler gives a rather good performance as Dracula, especially since he doesn’t really sound like himself when speaking and demonstrates a good emotional range. Similarly, Andy Samberg is able to show range in his voice, particularly since the character of Jonathan matches his style of humor more closely. I also thought Selena Gomez did well as Mavis, enough to show some promise as a future voice actor by conveying a teenager’s behavior rather well. The supporting cast, which includes Kevin James, Steve Buschemi and CeeLo Green among others, also give decent performances that help to round off the rest of the characters. One may also find the score of Mark Mothersbaugh to be fitting for each scene it appears in, though the appearance of other original and popular songs can be enough to drown it out.

Hotel Transylvania is surprisingly well done considering that it went through six directors to be completed, but the long production is also evident in the finished product. The story is well-paced and solidly written, but I couldn’t find myself invested too heavily in what went on and there are some artifacts in the form of half-baked plot elements and unnecessary crude humor. However, the animation is very good and the voice acting is rather decent. I’d say this is a movie that’s great for families to watch, as well as fans of Genndy Tartakovski. Since the inevitable sequel is on the way, I may check it out, but I’m not really sure I’d check back in immediately.

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