dir: Genndy Tartakovsky
When the school holidays ended in Melbourne a week or so ago, so too did the simultaneously exciting and terrifying prospect of having to take a child or children to the cinema in the pursuit of an hour or two of entertainment for the munchkins. It’s exciting because I love taking my kid to the cinema. It’s terrifying because most kid’s films are eye-bleedingly awful and make you wish you’d never been born, let alone them.
I’ve been lucky in the last month or so in that the films I’ve taken her along to haven’t been bad enough to make me want to shoot myself inside a cinema filled to the brim with children (not that I would there or anywhere, no need to get the Crisis Assessment Team out to pay me a visit, thanks), even if they haven’t been especially strong. I can’t expect Hayao Miyazaki or Henry Selick or Pixar to make eight films a year just to cover the school holidays for my benefit. Hotel Transylvania is good enough. It’s not good, it’s good enough. There’s a difference, but not enough of one to really matter.
It’s amusing enough, and the kids weren’t too bored, as far as I know. My kid loved it, but she’s not exactly that discerning as a viewer when it comes to stuff that’s entertaining because it’s loud, colourful and fast. This flick is constructed with no eye towards innovation (in any other area other than the programming, probably), with the sole intention of amusing kids and not boring the parents to tears.
Despite being set in a castle hotel run by Count Dracula (Adam Sandler), where the monsters of both legend and the silver screen can find sanctuary from the scourge of humans, the story is contemporary and familiar. It’s familiar enough that Massai tribesmen and Stone Age cannibal tribes discovered in the mountains of Papua New Guinea will immediately know what’s going on and where it’s going to go.
Because the concerns of the characters here are the concerns that we all share: protecting our daughters from the scum of the world.
Every father has joked about locking their children away from the world in a misguided desire to shield them from the attentions and corruptions out there. Some truly fucked individuals actually do lock them away, either through closing their families off from the outside world or literally locking them in the basement.
Dracula seems to have the same motivation. He’s not the sexual predator here that earlier flicks and books would indicate. He’s just a lovely creature of darkness who wants to protect his daughter from the fate of her mother, who died at the hands and pitchforks of evil humans.
Humans are the scourge here, not the legions of the night. Hotel Transylvania is apparently the one place that the vermin humans can’t go to open up a Subway franchise or to set-up a Go-Get vehicle share pod. And an Apple Genius store / Starbucks would really clean up around here.
Drac has a daughter, Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez), who’s 118th birthday is looming. For these 118 years, Drac has been essentially lying to his daughter about the outside world. Basically, they’re like the Amish, or a very orthodox Hasidic sect, or any fundamentalists you care to mention. They’re not interested in what the world is really like – their intention is to use the fear of the outside world to control those within their own little enclave.
Despite being something of a pacifist who apparently doesn’t ever feed on humans anymore (because their blood is so fatty), he will go to any lengths to stop his daughter from what any healthy 118-year-old vampire would want to do: she wants to see the world. The World, Daddy!
Naturally, her dear undead father decides to scare her into staying home. Most of the denizens of the Hotel fear flaming torches and pitchforks, not just for convenience’s sake but because of tradition. I would be a fool to say that this flick is paying homage to the classic monster Universal horror flicks of the 1930s, but I’m used to sounding a bit foolish. Somewhat foolish. Okay, pretty fucking foolish with disturbing regularity, but let’s move on.
There are all the expected images and flourishes, and I don’t think they’re just there out of laziness. Visually, the look of many of the monsters is really strong, and kinda retro, which I appreciated. Drac himself sports the classic Bela Lugosi look, and not some modern sparkly sprite who’s looks like he’s escaped from an 80s boy band (there is a quick scene poking fun at Twilight and its legion of undead braindead devotees, just in case there weren’t enough pop culture references).
People in movies invariably call Dr Frankenstein’s monster Frankenstein, and they pretend to make the same mistake here deliberately so that someone can say “but you can’t be Frankenstein because” etc etc in that really smarmy way like I just did. Of course Frankie’s on hand, and foot, and other body parts, and he’s brought his wife Eunice (Fran Drescher) along so she can complain about stuff and joke about how other characters have really annoying voices. It’s always good to see a creature with separation issues, and that lightning bolt hairstyle.
Why anyone would cast Fran Drescher in any animated flick to supply a voice is one of those profound mysteries, like what was going on before the Big Bang occurred, and how much wood a woodchuck would fuck if the woodchuck could luck out and get wood for once.
Maybe that question answers itself, so maybe it doesn’t beg the question. She needs all the money she can get, surely. But that voice, my gods! I’ve heard animals being ritually slaughtered and their screams caused less aural insult.
Into this heady mix of paranoid terror and monsterism comes young American tourist Johnny (Andy Samberg), who travels the world heedlessly venturing where no-one else cares to. He will, of course, force Drac and everyone else to come into the modern world, all for love, as Drac realises a thing, and Mavis realises another thing, and then everyone goes home happy.
I’m not looking for profundity in such an animated flick from these chumps. Sony Animation is the same company behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Smurfs, and so they have no pretentions towards beauty or inspiring rapturous passions in the hearts of their viewers. They’re just trying to get some of the sweet, sweet 3D ticket sales the other franchises from the other companies are raking in piles of billions of dollars.
And until The Joker comes along to set fire to all of it, they’re going to keep pumping this kind of stuff out to capture as much as they can, which is so unchallenging, so safe and pablum-like that it’s hard to even maintain any rage against it for any length of time. The kids weren’t bored, that’s the only definitive thing I can really say about it, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. The flick gave me enough intellectual time to wonder whether it’s a good thing for kids to watch something which doesn’t give them a moment’s pause in which to wonder about anything.
It’s almost as if they’re afraid kids with a second to contemplate the world, the movie they’re watching or their own existence, will riot and destroy the cinema and paint the world blood red. There’s almost a desperation to how frenetic everything needs to be, in order to stave this off. I know we can’t have kids wandering around the theatre, so they try to pin them to their seats with a barrage of noisy visuals, but it makes me somewhat wary (and it makes me sound like I’m about to mutter in a curmudgeonly way for kids to get off my digital lawn, or I’ll shoot them).
Hotel Transylvania is competent enough, and entertaining enough, but I expect more from my entertainments, whatever age they’re aiming at. Sure, it’s the best thing Adam Sandler has been involved with in decades, and he does really well as the main character here, but I want a little more than lazy stories about overprotective fathers and their children. Christ, that’s Finding Nemo right there. Surely they can come up with something slightly more interesting that a 118-year-old girl and a 21-year-old human falling in love. Love’s grand, love’s great, but there’s no time for love, or place for romantic adult love in these kinds of entertainments, I wouldn’t have thought, not for the under ten demographic.
I don’t want my five-year-old thinking she has to get a boyfriend and drop a few pounds because some goddamn skinny vampire chick in an animated movie got herself an American boyfriend. Of course, as much as she enjoyed it, she forgot all about any of the trenchant themes and weighty discourses I’m indulging in once the credits started rolling and the kids rushed to the front to dance like crazy things in front of the screen. I asked her later what he favourite thing about the flick was, and she said “dancing at the front” like the movie was one long prelude to that, so I was somewhat mollified.
Rest easy, I can rest easy, my kid’s not growing up too quick, at least not yet. Only time will tell if Hotel Transylvania messed with her biochemistry, warped her DNA and turned her into a mutant, though, so fingers crossed.
6 times the gift these flicks gives certain viewers is not having to look at the people gifting us with their voices out of 10
“Are they gonna kill me?”
- “Not if they think you're a monster.”
“That's kinda racist.” – I kinda agree – Hotel Transylvania