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Box Score Cinema: Hotel Transylvania   Leave a comment

A Guest Review By Mike Amato

"Welcome, come in! Ah, fresh victims for my ever-growing army of the undead." – Mr. Burns
"Sir, you have to let go of the button." – Smithers
"Oh, son of a bi-" – Mr. Burns

Top Line: Hotel Transylvania‘s script is dodgy at times and the basic story has been told a million times over, but the unbelievably cartoony animation alone is worth the price of admission. It’s helmed by Genndy Tartakovsky, one of the major figureheads of the great animation revival in the 90s, and his efforts to give the film a distinct look and feel pay off in spades. To be succinct, it’s one of the greatest looking animated movies I’ve ever seen.

Who (probably) should see this movie: Animation fans, fans of the classic movie monsters, those who love goofy, fun movies, and Adam Sandler fans, I guess. Are there any of those left?

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Those who don’t see animated movies because they’re "for kids." And a fuck you to you too.

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:31m – Standard procedure for an animated film.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 18 Minutes

MPAA: Rated PG for rude humor, action and scary images.

No surprises here; all animated movies try desperately to avoid the dreaded "G" rating. There’s really nothing objectionable at all here, and I don’t think any of the monsters would be considered scary for kids, unlike the surprisingly adult material in ParaNorman. Which was amazing, by the way.

Should Be Rated: PG-6

Three Stars:

  1. Adam Sandler – Count Dracula, Overprotective Daddy: 
    I was worried from the trailers Sandler’s Transylvanian accent would grow annoying over ninety minutes, but he actually does a pretty good job here.
  2. Andy Samberg – Johnny/Johnnystein/Frankenhomie:
    Samberg basically doing Samberg. His character ran a risk of being an irritant, but he plays this carefree nomadic dope with the utmost of sympathy.
  3. Selena Gomez – Mavis, 118-year-old Teenage Vampire:
    Also not annoying. Shocking.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +3: Never have I seen a movie this unabashedly kinetic. An absolute joy to look at.
  • +1: The 3D really adds a lot to some of the action.
  • -1: Would probably be just as spectacular on a 2D screen at home though.

Final Score: 5

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +3: As I said, a veritable treat for your eyeballs.
  • -1: Some of the gaffs in the screenplay hurt it a bit.
  • -1: Could be easily overlooked amidst the Pixar and DreamWorks giants

Final Score: 6

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1: Selena Gomez gives a surprisingly empathetic performance, lifting the rote storyline a bit.
  • -3: Doesn’t even come close to passing. The only other female characters are Frankie and the Wolfman’s spouses, who barely get any lines at all.

Final Score: 3

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Genndy Tartakovsky:
    Dexter’s Laboratory. Samurai Jack. Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Need I go on?.

Writer:

  • Peter Baynham:
    Co-wrote Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bruno, as well as last year’s criminally under-seen Sony/Aardman film Arthur Christmas.
  • Robert Smigel:
    The man behind the brilliant Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and co-wrote one of the only Sandler comedies I find bearable, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 45% Top Critics: 38% Audience: 80%

Notes:

  • The RT score is criminally low, but I guess it’s not surprising. Most critics I’m sure were quick to dump on the imperfect script, and unable to open their minds to animation that doesn’t strive for photo-realism.
  • Tartakovsky manages to bring his 2D sensibilities into 3D flawlessly; principles of composition, striking and simple design, squash and stretch and proper timing apply in animation no matter how many dimensions you’re working in. It’s very rare in this day and age to laugh at an animated film based on its visuals alone, and I found myself doing quite a lot of that here. One of the best bits is Dracula walking as if he’s hovering, just that black mass of cape moving along a straight line.
  • The typical Sandler gang is all here: Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade . . . they’re all fine. Not spectacular, but work with the material they have. Jon Lovitz also appears as the impish Quasimodo, who is immediately suspicious of a human in their midst. I thought that was odd considering Quasimodo is not technically a monster, and perhaps he was targeting humans to avoid arousing suspicion of his actual species.
  • The movie’s only major flaw is not knowing how to handle its emotional heft. The film stops dead in its tracks to explain Dracula’s sad past, and his rush to reunite his daughter with Mavis feels so tired and cliched. The entire movie is so off-the-wall and insane, but it all kind of crumbles down into formula for the last fifteen minutes or so.
  • We get the typical DreamWorks dance party ending, but give it a slight pass since it’s basically like a Lonely Island video.  Seeing Adam Sandler as Dracula free-styling with all the other monsters is more surreal than groan-inducing.

Bottom Line:

Hotel Transylvania is a fun film, something that if you ingratiate yourself into, will be an absolute blast. Is the story treacly and ham-fisted at points? Yeah. Does everything kind of fall apart into tired cliche in the end? Yep, that happens too. But in the end, I find I didn’t really care so much, since between the saccharine beginning and end was a wonderfully manic animation extravaganza, a 3D reincarnation of the crazy-go-nuts Bob Clampett and Tex Avery cartoons.

Since the advent of CG films, there’s been this belief that something looks better if it’s more realistic, like critics raving about grass believably blowing or trees moving in the wind in a DreamWorks picture. That’s all well and good, and certainly is worth merit in its own right. But why on earth are we praising cartoons for being realistic? It’s a medium where you can do anything, not only in concept and in story, but in terms of how the characters look, move and interact. You can create a world completely unlike our own in a way that you just can’t in live action.

Tartakovsky knows this better than anyone. The life and vibrance he breaths into these characters is absolutely stunning. The animation truly is the star of this movie; it’s so well thought out and communicated, you could watch the film on mute, still know what’s going on, and still be entertained. Watching these characters bounce off each other, acting and reacting is just enthralling to see unfold. Considering my praise largely hinges on visuals, it’s a movie whose brilliance really can’t be explained in words. To be frank, it needs to be seen to be believed.

Suggest Alternate Viewing:

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) – A similarly madcap animated film, also by Sony Pictures Animation. It manages to handle its story and emotional elements better than Transylvania; where this movie fumbled on its sentimental climax, Meatballs works it in and treats it with the same amount of silliness as the rest of the movie. If you like animation, you need to see this movie.

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Hotel Transylvania:

Wreck-It Ralph – I haven’t been this excited for a Disney film in a long time; it’s like Who Framed Roger Rabbit with video games. Directed by Simpsons and Futurama alumnus Rich Moore, this is definitely a film to look out for.

Despicable Me 2 – If I hear "Barbara-Ann" one more goddamn time…

The Smurfs 2 – Film aside, a particularly lazy trailer; they even have a character hold up two fingers to signify it’s a sequel, like every single poster for an animated sequel ever.

Life of Pi – Quite a jarring gear shift following Smurfs. I still have no idea what the hell this is about, but it looks breathtaking visually.

Here Comes the Boom – Kevin James tries MMA and Salma Hayek fits right in as a teacher at a schlubby high school, and seemingly potential love interest. I guess if Adam Sandler could make her his wife in Grown Ups, James wanted his shot too. What a fucking travesty.

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