“Hotel Transylvania” tries to be a Halloween party the whole family can howl at together, with its 1,250 rooms full of 3-D tricks and treats, and the kind of lovable abnormalities we remember from “Monsters Inc.” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”
Parents and kids won’t find themselves screaming with the laughter for the entire 91 minutes of this Sony Pictures Animation offering, but everyone gets a turn to chuckle — the kids at the predictable poop jokes and a flatulent Frankenstein, the grownups at such things as interrupted honeymooning flies and occasional lines of dialog like: “But seriously, watch out for fire. Fire bad.”
Visually speaking, award-winning TV animator Genndy Tartakovsky (“Star Wars: Clone Wars,” “Samurai Jack”) makes an impressive feature film directorial debut with a computer-animated comedy that has an old-fashioned cartoony look and exaggerated, stylized characters reminiscent of the days when cartoons went for the funny bone rather than realistic CGI dazzle.
It helps, too, to have a talented voice cast actually working face-to-face in a recording studio to bring the characters some real character. Adam Sandler breathes manic life into Dracula, the over-controlling and obsessive proprietor of Hotel Transylvania, who’s also the over-protective father of pretty teenager Mavis (Selena Gomez), who’s about to celebrate her 118th birthday and spread her wings and discover the outside world.
All of their monster friends have been invited to her party, including Dracula’s best bud Frankenstein (Kevin James), who’s like a favorite uncle to Mavis, long retired from terrorizing villagers and constables, now a big-hearted working man married to brassy Eunice (Fran Drescher), who has an “in your face” presence reminiscent of Joan Rivers.
Steve Buscemi voices weary Wayne the werewolf, an overworked data processor and worn-down father of many litters of pups with his sweet, lovable wife Wanda (Molly Shannon); David Spade is Griffin the Invisible Man, who’s a pair of floating eyeglasses with an acerbic wit and an oversensitivity about his red hair, which no one can even see; CeeLo Green kills it as Murray the Mummy, a big, boisterous ball of bandages who’s always the life of the party; and Jon Lovitz vocalizes for Quasimodo, the hotel’s temperamental hunchback French chef, who wants to add humans to the menu, even though monsters haven’t dined on normal people in more than a century.
In fact, Dracula has turned this ancient castle into a retreat for monsterkind from the scary world of torch-wielding humans, who made him a widower long, long ago. He desperately wants to keep Mavis safe at home forever, too.
But in stumbles Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a carefree and kind of clueless 21-year-old human who’s backpacking across Europe and finds himself accidentally crashing a party full of monsters. A frantic Dracula disguises him to hide the fact that a mortal is in their midst, which could cause the guests to panic, introducing him as Johnnystein, Frankenstein’s cousin. Frank doesn’t recognize this supposed relative, but Drac explains that Johnny is second cousin to the former owner of Frankenstein’s right arm.
The deception is working fine until, to Dracula’s horror, Jonathan and Mavis start to fall for each other. That’s when the frightful fun really begins.
In the field of computer animated storytelling, Sony Pictures Animation still has a ways to go to match the visual and narrative accomplishments of Pixar and DreamWorks.
But to Tartakovsky’s credit, the 3-D effects in “Hotel Transylvania” are never distractingly overused, employed only when they truly enhance the action (a scene involving flying tables is more fun than many amusement park thrill rides), and at the heart of the film there’s a warm and somewhat bittersweet family story, and well-taken lessons in tolerance and, for parents, letting go when the time is right.
2 ½ stars
Starring: Voices of Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, CeeLo Green.
(Some rude humor, action and scary images)