There's classic Golden Age monsters galore in this fun and lovable animated party.
Born in 1895, Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez) is a relatively young vampire trapped in the hotel that her father Dracula (Adam Sandler) has built to seal her and other marginalised monsters off from 'evil' humans. Yet now that Mavis' 118th birthday approaches, Dracula must work extra hard – and even lie – to prevent his centi-teen daughter from fulfilling her dream of escaping the stuffy, tomb-like confines of her home.
When Jonathan, a back-packing, fun-loving 21-year-old human, treks out to the castle and catches Mavis' eye, Dracula must decide whether to preserve his mausoleum at any cost, or to get with the times and let the outside world in a little.
Bringing all the classic Golden Age monsters together for an animated party (with the odd song-and-dance number), and having them return to the same antiquated, hermetic surroundings that they have been visiting annually for over a century, Hotel Transylvania represents the unlikely merger of Jules Bass' 'Animagic' Mad Monster Party and Alain Resnais' modernist masterpiece Last Year In Marienbad.
Except where Bass' film represented the final nail in the coffin for 'castle horror', reducing its monsters to figures of fun, and coming out just one year before Night of the Living Dead would change the genre irrevocably, Hotel Transylvania tries to resurrect these rotting (but still undead) creatures for our own postmodern age, with the partial success that comes from a rather mixed message.
The big joke here is that while Dracula and his lovably freaky cohort imagine that humans remain the pitchfork-wielding, firebrand-bearing xenophobes of the RKO days, in fact we have all become 'surfers' and tourists, regarding the monsters of old as funhouse commodities. Venturing out of the hotel, Dracula does not find angry Transylvanian mobs – or indeed any Transylvanians at all – but rather hordes of American travelers (not unlike Jonathan himself) out to reenact and celebrate the carnivalesque spirit of horror at its hoariest. Which is precisely what this film does for them.
Such monsters, once the inhabitants of a whole generation's nightmares, have now been defanged, declawed, and transformed into lovable eccentrics and outsiders in self-imposed exile. Dracula drinks only blood substitute, Wayne the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi) is preoccupied with his stressful domestic life, Frankenstein (Kevin James) is a henpecked husband, the Invisible Man (Cee Lo Green) is a curly ginger – and only Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), bizarrely modelled on Linguini from Ratatouille, seems actively to wish humans harm.
These crazy creatures – and the presence of a disguised human amongst them – affords comedy of incongruity aplenty, with each surreal gag following so rapidly upon the last that you almost fail to notice how hit-and-miss they all are. Corniness, after all, has long since become a part of these monster's lifeblood.
Perhaps, though, the film's best joke also gives the game away. Seeing a snatch of Twilight, Dracula complains: "This is how we're represented – unbelievable!" Yet for all its faults, at least the romance of Bella and Edward is an attempt to update the vampire mythos, whereas this film, despite the comic absurdities of a rapping, vocoded, sort-of snowboarding vampire, seems content largely to preserve its monsters like an old building's original fixtures.
Younger cinemagoers may identify with Mavis' desire to spread her wings and fly the nest – and will inevitably enjoy the fart gags – but this film's intense nostalgia seems targeted mostly at the (male) mummies or even granddaddies in the audience.
Director Genndy Tarkovsky comes with an impressive pedigree, having worked on TV's The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack and the original Star Wars: Clone Wars – but despite excellent handling of Easter-eggy crowd scenes, there is something a bit undistinguished about the animation here. As for the voguish stereoscopy, wasn't the Creature from the Black Lagoon (who cameos here) already in 3D in his very first 1954 outing? The more things change, eh – as though immortality comes only in aspic.
The (other) Tarkovsky! But the trailer promises little.
Occasionally in stitches, if not quite like Frankenstein or Murray the Mummy...
Castle horror versus theme-park tourism. No real winners.