Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
October 2012

Hotel Transylvania

Hotel for Sandler & Friends

Adam Sandler and his cohorts make off with 'Hotel Transylvania,' at the movie's expense

Hotel Transylvania
Columbia Pictures
Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Screenplay: Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel
Starring: The voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Fran Drescher, CeeLo Green and Jon Lovitz
Rated PG / 1 hour, 31 minutes
Opened September 28, 2012
(out of four)

The problem with Adam Sandler as a performer is that, more often than not, he thinks doing a silly voice is the same thing as acting. This describes the vast majority of his recent work - it's always one variation of his patented adult toddler shtick or another - and exemplifies the kind of laziness that has frustrated all but his most devoted followers.

I bring this up only because that very same characteristic dominates Hotel Transylvania, which was not made under the Happy Madison label but which nonetheless feels very much like a Sandler movie. (Except probably a bit more grown-up.) (Zing.) I don't remember the last time I've seen an animated film so overshadowed by its central voice talent. It's one thing if it's something like Eight Crazy Nights, which was a Sandler creation through and through. In this case, he's essentially a hired hand (er, voice), yet it somehow still feels like a cartoon version of one of his other movies.

What we get is the same kind of cheap Sandler characterization we've come to expect, only with a hacky Transylvanian accent this time. He voices what is surely cinema's most grating version of Dracula, who in this incarnation is an overprotective father hellbent on keeping humans away from his vampire daughter and all their fellow supernatural creatures. To this end he created the titular hotel, which at any given time will feature any number of legendary monsters from storybooks, movies and myths.

The hotel seems to be doing good business, and it's certainly fulfilled its intended purpose - no humans have set foot on the property in the 118 years since Dracula had it built. But, this being his daughter Mavis's all-important 118th birthday and all, the outside world is starting to look mighty tempting to a young woman who's spent her entire life cooped up in a castle.

All the family's old friends are on hand for the occasion - including, among others, Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, the Mummy (CeeLo Green) and of course a family of werewolves, headed up by the frustrated patriarch voiced by Steve Buscemi. But Mavis (Selena Gomez) is tired of having the same old birthday party every year, tired of the same old friends and family, tired of hearing her old man's horror stories about the humans on the outside, eager to finally fly out on her own. Maybe even meet a human or two for herself.

She gets exactly that opportunity (though quite without her knowledge) when Jonathan (Andy Samberg) pops up in the hotel one day. Jonathan is a backpacker - a human one - who somehow made his way through the ominous woods and right through the front door of a hotel that he seems to think is some hosting some sort of costume ball. Judging from the attire and all. Only Dracula notices his presence, and quickly proceeds to dress him in makeup to pass him off as a relative of Frankenstein. He tries to kick the kid out of the hotel for good, but his attempts are thwarted at every turn. So he just has to hope his ruse will stick for a day or two.

The one hitch, naturally, is that Jonathan and Mavis hit it off and fall for each other, with Mavis blissfully unaware she's flirting with the presumed enemy.

There is only one direction for all of this to go - which is fine, I guess. Except the movie seems to miss most of the opportunities it has to really play with all these legendary characters. All the comic opportunities are missed. Here's where I arrive back at my original point - instead of a movie starring comedic versions of Dracula and Frankenstein and the Invisible Man, it feels more like Sandler and his friends goofing off in monster makeup. Frankenstein is not a character in Hotel Transylvania - he's just Kevin James. The Invisible Man is not a character - he's just David Spade. Dracula actually does have a character arc, but the overall effect is that of Adam Sandler doing one of his stupid voices.

What energy the film has comes from Cartoon Network veteran Genndy Tartakovsky behind the camera, and writers Peter Baynham (a Brit with a long list of impressive collaborations) and SNL vet Robert Smigel. There are some amusing asides and sight gags that prevent Transylvania from being the absolute bore that it could be. But in the end, those brief highs can't compete with the conspicuous ubiquity of the Sandler brand.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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