Ah, the kid’s movie, where you can sit back, relax, and take in the sights as a monster sponge takes in the glory of a urine bath. That is a high point for Hotel Transylvania.
This one aims low and somehow lands further down than expected, despite the potential in the concept. Riffing on the popularity of Universal Monsters, Sony’s animated effort toys around with the caricatures, adds in Adam Sandler to play Dracula, then makes a couple of gags about smelly clothes. We have a winner in an alternate universe where comedic entertainment never matured.
Look, a fart joke can be funny. Hotel Transylvania has a good one in fact, but this one keeps pouring them on in the midst of a story about acceptance and prejudice. Those methods merely cheapen the material in the face of say, ParaNorman, which carried similar themes without speaking down to little ones. Transylvania leads them too far, disallowing any thought process.
The movie has a few zingers of note as monsters travel from around the world to escape a human-existence. Castle Dracula has been built to keep the pitchfork waving, flame starting humans out. In the midst of running the hotel as a business, Dracula also needs to worry about his now 118-year old daughter. She is legal (seriously a joke made in a film aimed at kids), and like every generic teen in movie history, struggles for independence.
Enter the human, a dopey sufer-esque stereotype that tries to blend in amongst the monsters. Johnathan (Andy Samberg) is disguised while he carries on a “fish out of water” routine, gaining the inevitable affection of Dracula’s daughter. Much of the humor that is not a mere one-off derives from the oddball Johnathan, not Dracula’s own techniques to hide his identity. Drac has a reputation to protect and a guarantee, but the entertainment is more in Johnathan’s court. His mixture of awe, fear, and general shock when in the crowd is far more interesting.
Hotel Transylvania has one obvious conclusion… and only one. The film never strays far from the expected pathways, taking no risks and trying to survive on a handful of clever monster gags. Some appearances are obvious from The Fly to Bigfoot, others not so much (a giant tarantula can only be from 1955’s Tarantula based on size & likeness). Spotting them amidst the background is fun, while the core character roster sticks close to the common routine of Frankenstein, Wolf Man, Invisible Man, and Mummy.
Sony’s attempt to merge classic horror and kid’s flicks is admirable if only for introducing a new generation to these familiar forms. It comes down to the narrative though, and Transylvania has no energy despite a generous pacing. If nothing else, you’re only losing 90-minutes to keep the kids (possibly) entertained by urine soaked sponges.
Sharpness is impeccable in this animated feature, filled with visual vibrancy. The castle is rich in small details, the resolution staying firm to render creatures for what seems like miles, and rock textures down a multitude of long hallways. Even pulling back to reveal the exterior castle or a perfectly replicated European town (from any number of Universal classics) carry on the wealth of potential even when outside.
Hotel Transylvania is not doused in color, although it carries a fair share of dominating primaries. Reds are healthy, and with wild lighting in club/music sequences, there is plenty of opportunity to dazzle with an array of saturation, Oddly, despite being undead, Dracula has a near perfect flesh tone. Go figure.
The AVC encode avoids any dramatic issues, free of aliasing despite a small mountain of fine lines. A late moment of smoke fills the screen and a hint of banding can be spotted for a few seconds, a nominal concern. All of the fast action holds together without compression, a hot tub sequence especially impressive with the waves and bright green tint to the water. That could have been a haven for artifacts.
Style renders the characters with some simplicity. Often, skin textures are flattened to a more plastic or glossy state, close-ups revealing the texture that goes unseen at a distance. Hotel Transylvania does not have lofty animation goals directly, more concerned with exaggerated motion. That is fine, although it doesn’t live alongside the growing assault from Pixar or Dreamworks. Simple can be appreciated though.
The real fun visually is 3D, wherein action is allowed plentiful opportunity and space to provide a dizzying array of gimmicks. Flying bats, deep receding hallways, pop-out close-ups, and a glasses only Invisible Man stick out with immediacy. Hotel Transylvania is overdone almost instantly, only dying out during the often flat conversations.
Viewing only produced two moments of noticeable cross talk, one severe during a nighttime forest shot that saw the trees turn into a jumble. It is, to say the least, a worthy exchange for the overall quality. A sequence of angry villagers is superlative too, with pitchforks poking at the screen, and torches swaying in front of the viewer. This is never subtle when it gets going. Prime black levels only help the material escape the plane of 2D dullness. If you are going to watch, do it in 3D. There is more fun to be had there than with the general material.
Accentuating the depth of the piece is an actively wild DTS-HD mix. Well done moments are everywhere, from Johnathan’s first discovery of the monsters (screams travel all over), a flying table sequence (chatter and air rushing tracks a full 360 degrees), to a concert (swelling up into the surrounds). This is a nicely primed design that rarely misses a chance to place something elsewhere other than in the center.
The only lacking piece is some LFE, which while there, never reaches a satisfying peak. A genuinely heavy roar from an angered Frankenstein is as brave as the mix will get with the low-end. Chances are, you’ll be impressed by the surround and stereo work enough as to not notice. Balancing it all together is tight voice work that sounds naturally placed, and with a few moments of positional work too, because why not?
Director Genndy Tartakovsky joins producer Michelle Murdocca and animation supervisor Daniel Kramer for a commentary track, setting off the bonus features. Goodnight Mr. Foot is a short done in a classically minded animation style. Three deleted scenes have marginal value, and Meet the Staff & Guests is nothing but a promo for the voice actors. Making the Hotel takes you through the design work, while a series of progression reels are quite good in their depth, more so than the usual for animated features. A music video and a behind-the-scenes look at said video round this one out.