Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just gratuitous violence, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a hoot about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.
Starring: Adam Sandler (THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES , I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY , BULLETPROOF , and the upcoming HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION ), Selena Gomez (NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY ROW , RAMONA AND BEEZUS , HORTON HEARS A WHO! , and the upcoming HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3), and Andy Samberg (BRIGSBY BEAR , THAT’S MY BOY , HOT ROD , and the upcoming HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3)
Support: Kevin James (I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY, HITCH , and TV show KEVIN CAN WAIT [2016 – ongoing]), Steve Buscemi (TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT , I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY, and CON AIR ), David Spade (SANDY WEXLER , THE BENCHWARMERS , and TOMMY BOY ), Ceelo Green (BEGIN AGAIN  and MYSTERY MEN ), and Fran Drescher (HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 , SANTA’S SLAY , and JACK )
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky (HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 and TV shows SAMURAI JACK [2001 – 2017] and DEXTER’S LABORATORY [1996 – 2003], and the upcoming HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3), Writers: Peter Baynham (THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY , ARTHUR CHRISTMAS , and BORAT ) and Robert Smigel (HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2, and TV show SNL [1975 – ongoing]), Composer: Mark Mothersbaugh (LEGO NINJAGO , LORDS OF DOGTOWN , HAPPY GILMORE , and upcoming films THOR: RAGNAROK  and HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3)
Poor Adam Sandler. Well… maybe I shouldn’t say that with much sympathy, as I’m pretty sure he went on record once to say that the only reason he’s been doing the movies he’s done these last few years is to go on vacation. Kind of apparent with that statement that he’s not trying much anymore.
Having said that, explain the Hotel Transylvania series. Okay, you can argue that these movies aren’t Happy Madison productions, so it’s a legit argument to not blame him for their successes. They’re DreamWorks and they have a knack for making films that leave an impact on both younger and older audiences, so there’s other talent to breathe life into these movies. With that said, Sandler does have a hand in writting these films. How much of it was written by him is anyone’s guess.
Hotel Transylvania hasn’t exactly been a critical darling in the past, being labeled as just another Happy Madison production, but in animated form. In a way, I can see why. These movies definitely have immature humor littered around. Fart jokes, urine jokes, they’re all over the place, appealing more to little kids than a more widespread audience like Disney and Pixar.
In defense of these films though, and arguing to average critic, these films have heart. They do have drama. There is are stakes. These films have good things in them that I think go either overlooked or not given enough due respect.
Before I turn this into a duel review of both films, let’s keep me focused on this one. The story opens on Dracula (voiced by Sandler) starting construction of his hotel sanctuary for monsters to keep them safe from their human enemies, while also being a single father taking care of his treasured daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez). Baby Mavis is about the cutest vampire baby I’ve ever seen. I’d compare her to Renesmee from the Twilight: Breaking Dawn movies, but A) I’ve not see those movies, and B) since those movies bite the big ones, I’m just going to assume Baby Mavis is a thousand times cuter. Especially when she’s crawling around on the wall. She gets pretty cliché when the actual movie takes off, but I’ll tackle that later.
But if there’s anything that I truly enjoy about this movie is that even though the idea is cute enough, it would have been so easy to make this a cynical bouncy movie with no real drama. Thankfully, this movie rises above that and does a great job in that department. There’s real stakes in this for Dracula. He built the hotel to protect his daughter. Though the death of her mother isn’t anything particularly shocking, it’s actually pretty obvious or something that can easily be guessed early on, the moment when Dracula is talking to Jonathan about why he does everything that he does is done very well. The lighting on Dracula is beautifully dark, the silence or minimal use of the score, and genuine heartbreaking acting from Sandler culminated in a surprisingly emotional scene. On top of what he’s lost, the hotel is supposed to be that safe haven for other monsters so they don’t have to suffer the same circumstances he did. And Jonathan’s presence in the hotel is an enormous threat for all that he’s worked for.
The humor is pretty spot-on too. Some of Sandler’s musical numbers have humorous lyrics to them. Even the end pop song is a little catchy, despite the incorporated rap bits. I especially love certain lines like, “He’s my right arm’s cousin!” The animation is pretty great too. The colors are bright and it’s a visually pleasing movie too. Not only that, but it’s also visually distinct. There’s barely a single frame in this movie that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. That’s deserving of some respect, if you ask me. The animation is also fast paced, highly energized, coupled with the actors giving their all makes for some pretty entertaining scenes. And I really enjoy the ending of how once upon a time, monsters were genuine scary stories, but have turned into cultural icons that everyone loves to watch, read about, and dress up as. And for the monsters to come out into the open, that’s a great way to set up the next direction these movies could go, which of course spawned the sequel.
As much fun as the movie was, it’s not without its imperfections. As soon as Mavis grows up, she’s a borderline Disney princess, the dreamer who thinks that there’s more than this provincial life. Ugh, thank God for the sequel, or I might have chewed my own tongue off. Oh, alright, she’s not quite that bad. Mavis isn’t annoying, or obnoxious in any real way, she’s just got no personality other than be the dreamer who’s lied to and has to react how a person who’s been lied to reacts. Eh, for the most part. She’s got one reaction that’s refreshingly different from other movies that do things similar, but in a more “other movies should be doing this anyway” sort of way. So I don’t care that much, but it’s still a note that I can’t ignore.
The cardinal sin of the movie, however, is Jonathan. This character is so beyond annoying. You know that reaction people have when they hear the voice of Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars prequels? Well, that’s my reaction when I listen to Samberg here. Don’t get me wrong, Samberg has been in some wonderfully funny films in the past and has proven to be a good actor. But by the grace of God, why did he have to have a surfer dude dialect? This is a textbook example of how not to make a funny character; the mindset of a funny voice making a funny character, rather than a funny character making a funny voice. I don’t know if Samberg was directed horribly or he was making all the wrong choices, but every line of dialog just sounds like he’s trying to be funny, rather than actually being funny. While the immature humor did grate on me in the beginning, to its credit, some of it worked well enough. But nothing about Samberg was funny. Again, thank God for the sequel.
Overall, I think the movie’s fine. Kids will get a real kick out of it and I think some of the dramatic scenes work well enough for adults to find humor in it. It’s creative, energetic, fun, funny, and utterly engaging, despite its annoyances. But it’s still a great little film to put on for the entire family around Halloween, the perfect destination to get into the holiday.
My honest rating for HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA: 4/5