Introduction: I’m a fan of classic cinematic monsters, from Frankenstein’s creature, to Dracula, to zombies. But my initial interest in this movie was actually thanks to hearing the Becky G. song, “Problem,” which plays over the movie’s credits. I heard the track as a random pick on iTunes, liked its catchy beat, and it led me to the music video, which ultimately sparked my interest in the movie. Be aware – some spoilers may be present throughout.
The Story: In Hotel Transylvania (2012), Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) will do anything to keep his only daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), safe from harm. So he constructs Hotel Transylvania, a getaway spot for monsters who can enjoy themselves without fear of persecution from “evil” Humans and where Mavis can be among her own kind. But when Mavis reaches her 118th birthday, she desires to visit the world, something that puts her father on edge. Especially when Johnny (Andy Samberg), a happy-go-lucky Human, stumbles into the hotel and catches Mavis’ eye. Now Dracula must contend with not only keeping her protected but also with possibly letting her go, as well as learning that maybe not all Humans are bad after all.
My Take: As a whole, Hotel Transylvania is good, clean fun and it’s a neat way to introduce kids (if you have any) to classic monster characters without gore or terror-inducing scenes. The animation style is crisp, clear, and colorful and the movements are fluid but sometimes erratic during fast-paced action or comical scenes. While it’s not entirely realistic, it is easy to watch and doesn’t grate on the eyes. Granted, this is no Pixar offering, but it’s by no means weak in terms of design.
Casting-wise, Adam Sandler serves as the voice of Dracula. I’m not a Sandler fan by any stretch of the imagination because I tend to find his brand of humor obnoxious. Yet Sandler actually impressed me here by assuming a character who knows how to be goofy and have fun but who is also serious. Yes, this version of Dracula is quite tame (he even admits to drinking a blood substitute!) but avoids becoming the dumb dad trope. Granted, sometimes Dracula resorts to being less than honest with Mavis to keep her safe, such as sharing false information about the outside world, but he ultimately does so to protect her, so he has her best interests at heart. Yet when Dracula’s views of Humans are challenged, he’s humble enough to admit he was wrong and is willing to sit aside old prejudices.
Mavis is voiced by pop singer/actress Selena Gomez. Again, I was pleased with her performance as Gomez manages not to make Mavis sound like a silly girl, spouting off slang and acting stupid. Instead, Mavis possesses a sense of wisdom and feminine vulnerability rather than act like an immature, careless teenybopper. She also loves her father and respects him rather than sassing him all of the time or treating him like an idiot. Likewise, Johnny (voiced by Andy Samberg) is respectful towards Dracula and never tries to try to push Mavis away from her father. Instead, Johnny sees past her and her father’s monster exterior and becomes a genuine, fun-loving friend. Overall, this makes for some good, solid character dynamic and development as well as presents positive images of family and friendship for younger viewers.
The rest of the cast was a pleasant mix, which includes offerings from Kevin James, Cee-Lo Green, Fran Drescher, and David Spade. As a whole, I didn’t hear any voice talents who suffered a disconnect with their characters. Though I’ve noticed a trend that anytime there are singers who act (or provide voice talent) in a movie, especially for kids, there has to be a scene or scenes where they’re given a song to perform. This holds true in this movie where Gomez, Green, and even Sandler get a chance to exercise their singing pipes. That isn’t a negative for me, but sometimes I wonder if it isn’t a way to serve as a covert advertisement for audience members to check out their music. But still, hearing Adam Sandler rap under the guise of Dracula is something to be heartily enjoyed.
Plot-wise, the movie is rather predictable, at least from an adult’s perspective. It focuses chiefly on Dracula and Johnny as the former does his best to help Johnny blend in while Dracula fears Johnny’s true identity will be discovered. As expected, Johnny is unmasked and part of the movie’s back half shows Dracula and Co. having a change of heart and trying to bring Johnny back since Mavis reveals she has feelings for him. It ends just as you probably think it does and everyone lives happily ever after. I took no fault with the ending, but I sense the main draw for this movie, at least for adults, will be its cast and colorful animation more so than its story.
That being said, the messages in this movie are positive, such as the undying nature of true love, defending one’s family, and reaching out to people who are different from you. But these messages are sometimes hammered home a bit too hard. It isn’t mushy or preachy but it’s clearly with kids in mind. For example, when Dracula and some of his friends stumble upon a monster convention, they’re made to realize that their kind isn’t hated by all Humans. One character then offers a plea of help to the Humans to help them find Johnny and assist Dracula, which the crowd does so gladly. Thus, the directness of the message is a bit too on the nose for my taste. I like a more subtle approach but, once more, this movie is geared for kids though there is nothing here I sense an adult would cringe at.
Another positive for this film is that it doesn’t pound viewers over the head with incessant pop culture references or product placements, which seem to crop up frequently in kid’s movies these days. While I tend to not notice product placements and I can find humor in smartly added pop culture references, they can get annoying if they’re used too much. So I give this movie extra kudos for the restraint. Instead, all we get is a reference to Doritos and a very clever jab at the Twilight film franchise (clip doesn’t contain spoilers):
In the end, Hotel Transylvania is a perfect movie for older kids and younger teens. Children younger than six might be frightened by some of the characters (though these are meant to be colorful, goofy monsters, not terror-inducing beings). Likewise, older teens and adults might deem it too cheesy for their tastes. But sometimes cheese is good, and in this case a little cheese makes this movie a fun, Halloween-themed romp.
Content: Hotel Transylvania was given a PG rating but my assessment of its content is as follows:
Language – None, though there are some invented euphemisms (such as “Holy Rabies!”) that are meant as slang/exclamations, not as swear words
Violence – None in terms of fight scenes or on-screen deaths. Obviously, there are mild scary moments that would frighten very little children, but these are played chiefly for laughs. Some examples include scenes where Count Dracula becomes angry and his face and eyes turn red as he snarls and a sequence when one character encounters angry humans in a village. Elsewhere, we see a flashback where the death of Dracula’s wife is implied but her actual demise occurs off-screen.
Sexual Material – None. One scene has Dracula accidentally walking in on a pair of fleas who we are told are on their honeymoon (nothing is shown other than a quick kiss between the couple) as well as a skeleton in a shower. Both scenes are played entirely for laughs. Similarly, Dracula lounges in a steam bath with some of his pals where they wear towels around their waists but there is no nudity. Lastly, there is an attraction between Mavis and Johnny but it’s completely chaste (though their relationship does have an insta-love chemistry).
Thematic Material – There are instances of mild crude and gross out humor, such as one character “breaking wind” and blaming it on someone else and Johnny freaking Dracula out by replacing a contact lens (which Dracula asserts is the “most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen!”). In general, most of this film’s horror-themed moments stem from the fact that its cast is primarily monsters but they’re more akin to the monsters from, say, Monsters Inc., than a run-of-the-mill horror movie.
Recommended Audiences: In my opinion, I believe Hotel Transylvania stacks up this way (note that just because something isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):
Children – Recommended, provided they’re not too easily scared. Anyone younger than six might, as a whole, be too young for this movie.
Older Children & Teens – Recommended, and this seems to be the perfect/target audience for this movie based on its overall story, delivery, and tone.
Young Adults & Adults – Recommended, especially for fans of funny classic monster renderings or anyone who’s familiar with any of the cast.
Overall, Hotel Transylvania is a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half but probably isn’t a movie that warrants repeat viewings, at least not by adults. Likewise, it won’t be remembered as a classic, must-see animated film like Toy Story or old-school Disney. But it makes for a fun Halloweennight flick pick or if you’re just in the mood for a more colorful rendering of your favorite monsters.