Hotel Transylvania | Genndy Tartakovsky | 2012 | ★★½
To put it simply, Genndy Tartakovsky is a visionary. To many, his name may not sound familiar, but if you were born anytime in the last 20 years, or if you are a fan of quality animation, chances are you have enjoyed at least one of the many things he has been involved with. He is the producer and creator of classic animated shows like “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “The Powerpuff Girls.” Also, he is a three-time Emmy-winner for “Star Wars: Clone Wars” and “Samurai Jack.” All of the animated shows he has worked on, even the ones aimed strictly at children have had a different air about them. Not only do they entertain the masses, but they dare to be more artistic, take on darker subjects, and from time to time they are not afraid to dig deep into your feelings to draw some tears.
If you doubt my claim of him being a visionary, just consider a couple of examples of his work: the pilot of “Samurai Jack” and the “Twisted Sister” episode of “The Powerpuff Girls.” The former is one of the boldest first episodes of any television series of all time. I mean, it takes some serious balls to open a show, especially an animated one on Cartoon Network, with a ten minute stretch of silence and just a character roaming around in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The latter is one of the most emotionally scarring things I’ve ever seen. It is about Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup messing around in Professor Utonium’s lab trying make a fourth Powepuff Girl. The end result is “Bunny,” an ugly and clunky person who really is no good at this hero stuff, even though she tries. At some point in the episode, she runs away from the group as she was making too much of a mess, but in the end when all hope was lost and her sisters were losing the battle for Townsville, she comes in and makes the ultimate sacrifice for her sisters and the city. A truly powerfull episode that even had me teared up while writing this.
Now, why did I just devote two whole paragraphs to the genius of Genndy Tartakovsky? To help my case in explaining why in no way Hotel Transylvania’s near-failure is his fault. When you hear him talk about the project, you can hear he was passionate about it, and it definitely shows in some aspects of the film. However, at the end of the day, he is a television person trying to make his feature film debut with a major studio, so it wasn’t always going to be totally his films in the same way that something like “Samurai Jack” was. And what we are left with is one of the most visually inventive, but otherwise lame, films of the year.
Hotel Transylvania tell the story of Dracula (Adam Sandler), a devoted father to Mavis (Selena Gomez), who tries as hard as he can to keep her away from the human world due to some dark events that happened in his past. So, to achieve his goal, he builts a hotel where monsters from all around the world can come and relax for a few days. The film takes place the day before Mavis’s 118th birthday and Frankenstein (Kevin James), his bride (Fran Drescher), The Mummy (CeeLo Green), The Invisible Man (Davis Spade), and The Wolfman (Steve Buscemi) come to visit. But also a very unexpected and unwelcome guest arrives: Jonathan, a human. This could almost destroy Dracula’s world because if a human is found in the hotel, then it wouldn’t be a safe heaven for monsters anymore, and also because Mavis becomes attracted to him.
When it come right down to it, the biggest thing holding the film back is the script. It is not so much the story, as old and tired as it is, but rather that they don’t do anything new to it at the script level. Sure, it’s cute to see Dracula as a father in the modern world and trying to keep his daughter away from humans, and the ploy of there being a hotel where monsters go to relax and escape from the terrors the humans cause them is noble, even if Monsters, Inc. has done it before, and more successfully. But besides that, and a couple of clever gags involving zombified classic composers and digs at Drescher’s voice, there’s nothing original to it. The whole father-daughter relationship just goes through the motions that you can easily predict what would happen and at what point during the film. The introduction of Jonathan does spice things up a bit, but again, it’s nothing but a rip off of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and it does nothing to stand apart from it. Also, they do absolutely nothing interesting with the great cast of characters assembled. You have Frankenstein and his bride? They just use them for potty jokes. The Wolfman? Just there to complain about having a ton of kids. The Mummy? Actually, he just stands around and sounds like CeeLo Green.
Oh, and the jokes? Bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. The Shrek films look artful compared to this.
Also not doing the film any favors is Adam Sandler’s performance as Dracula. Now, the film is supposed to be a very broad and cartoonish comedy, so an over-the-top vocal performance was needed. However, Sandler’s work is so one-note that it becomes irritating after about 20 minutes. The only time there was some charm to his voice was in the first scene where he is singing to Mavis, but after that, it’s Sandler on autopilot. The rest of the performances were appropriate, with Chris Parnell’s take on The Fly being almost great, but this voice cast is not winning any awards.
But like I said, this film is not a complete failure. Tartakovsky’s wild imagination saves it from being just another crap film from Sony Animation. The character and set designs are super inventive, and do seem reminiscent from other works by Tartakovsky, particularly “The Powerpuff Girls.” Some sequences, are brilliantly staged. And best of all, from time to time he rewards us with some downright beautiful shots that overcome the poor quality of the animation. The few emotional beats that the film actually hits can actually be attributed to Tartakovsky’s compositions.
If you are a fan of animation, then by all means go see Hotel Transylvania and not only you get to see the work of a genius like Genndy Tartakovsky, but also because if this (and his upcoming Popeye film) are hits, the may very well get the funding for his long-awaited Samurai Jack feature film. But if you are expecting this to be anything other than an animated Happy Madison film, then don’t waste your money.