Are the Hotel Transylvania movies any good?

Hello, and welcome to the Fullmetal Narcissist anime blog! It’s October now… I mean, this is literally the first of October… And it’s time once again to delve into the horror genre, where everything is spooky, festive, and fake. I’d normally open a month like this with a review, but this time around, I felt like I had a much better note to begin on. Specifically, there’s a question that’s been bothering me for about four years now… Are the Hotel Transylvania movies any good?

I originally saw the first one while it was still in theaters. It looked really lame from the trailers, and it didn’t have a very impressive Rotten Tomatoes score, but I had heard from a few trusted sources that despite all that, it was actually a very funny, beautifully animated, even heart-felt movie. I went to check it out, because I was kind of loose about going to the theater back in 2012, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I laughed constantly, I connected with a few of the characters and their dilemmas, and I left the theater in a generally good mood… And yet I didn’t feel that the low critical scores were wrong. I personally believe that every critic should learn how to separate their personal taste from their professional taste, and I was definitely feeling this movie as a sort of guilty pleasure.

Fast forward three years, the sequel hit theaters, and I didn’t go, because the first movie was no longer fresh in my mind, and I just wasn’t really feeling it. Yet, the movie DID come out on DVD, and I rented it from Redbox, surprisingly enjoying it as well, even as my feelings for it became a bit complicated. I knew it was a step up in terms of story and plot, which is a good thing for a sequel to do, but there were so many little problems gnawing away at me that I couldn’t believe it actually had a better rotten tomatoes score than it’s predecessor… I couldn’t help but feel that it deserved more of a 26 percent, and keep in mind, that’s for a movie I LIKED. What’s the deal with these weird feelings? Why should I feel so conflicted over a pair of movies that sport such simple ideas and concepts? To answer that question once and for all, I’ve decided to rewatch both movies, and decide once and for all what I think of them. And hey, since this is the season of spooking, you should watch them too. I mean, I am going into heavy spoilers, so yeah, if you haven’t seen them, stop reading for a few hours and check them out before coming back.

To start, let’s take a look at what I like the most about these movies. But before that, I’m going to have to apologize to a few people… Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman, Jouji Nakata, Crispin Freeman, and Gerard ButHAH! Yeah right. Fuck Gerard Butler. I need to apologize to everyone else because Adam Sandler… Yes, THE Adam Sandler, the one who made Jack and Jill, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Pixels, and the Ridiculous 6, is my favorite Dracula actor. Now, to be fair, I’ve always known Adam Sandler to be more talented than people give him credit for. He has great acting skills as well as lyrical talent and a superb singing voice. When he’s given total control of a project, which happens far too often, he takes the easiest way out, making for dumb, rushed films where he only casts his friends so they can get a paid vacation together. When he’s forced to work under other people, and he actually tries, that’s when magic can finally start to happen.

Sandler shared cowriting duties with Robert Smigel, the mind behind a whole line of SNL animated skits and the ever-popular Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and he’s probably the reason this movie is as funny as it is. The directorial duties were handled by Genndy Tartakovsky, an animation heavyweight who’s so beloved and respected that his work inspired two separate anime… Powerpuff Girls Z and Panty and Stocking. With these two names attached to the project, even Adam Sandler couldn’t fuck it up. I’ve heard some critics complain that Sandler’s Dracula is yet another generic Sandler character… A misunderstood loser with no real flaws who learns his lesson far too quickly. I can’t help but disagree in this case. In this movie, Dracula is portrayed as a retired monster, now living as a family man with a deep fear of the outside world and a delusion of responsibility to keep his only child safe and protected by any means necessary. He does bad things… VERY bad things, really… But it’s hard to hate him for any of it because, according to his own experiences, he has good reasons to act the way he does.

And he does have noticeable flaws. He’s selfish and set in his ways to the point of near delusion. He will ignore an entire room full of unhappy people if things are going his way, and while those moments may have been played for laughs, he is absorbed in the reality he’s constructed for his daughter, and can’t handle the idea of it ending. Even when he gets over his fears and allows his daughter to choose her own life, he’s still threatened by change, and the possibility that she’ll leave the vampire life behind… And him with it. Aside from being a vampire, this is the most human portrayal of Dracula that I’ve ever seen, and relatable as all hell to anyone who’s ever had a kid or made the effort to understand their own parents. His fear about his grandchild turning out to be a human mirrors this perfectly, because every parent and grandparent alike has expectations about how their legacy will play out, and anxiety about it not going the way they want. How many parents out there freak out at the possibility of their kids turning out gay, or the wrong political party? In the world of this movie, human vs. vampire is the perfect metaphor for these fears in the development of an impressionable child.

Not only is he a great character in his own right, but by painting him as an older, retired version of the popular character, these movies were able to paint his fellow monsters and long time friends in the same way, which helped them all to act as adequate support for his character, as well as carrying distinct personalities and jokes of their own. The cast of Grown-Ups CAN be funny with the right writing, apparently, although swapping out Rob Schneider for Steve Buscemi probably helped. Out of Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man, and The Mummy, none of these characters are there for token reasons… None of them are wasted, with the possible exception of The Blob in the sequel. The script takes advantage of every possible joke it can, with these monsters, with random monsters sprinkled throughout the film, and especially with Dracula and the long history of vampire lore. I can’t stress this enough… There’s a fart joke in here that’s funny enough to earn TWO genuine laughs, as it utilizes these characters so perfectly.

Of course, for all the great character writing, there are going to be a few exceptions. Unfortunately, they concern the second and third most important characters in the story, Mavis and Jonathan. I don’t want to say they’re unlikeable… Well, maybe Jonathan about half the time… But there’s just so little character TO them. They’re more plot devices than people. Mavis is a girl who’s been cooped up all her life and wants a taste of the outside world. Jonathan’s a free spirited transient who just happened upon the hotel by accident. Beyond those descriptions, there is nothing you can say about them that doesn’t have something to do with Dracula and what they are to him. The most interesting thing you can say about Jonathan is that he’s the combination of Olaf from Frozen and the three main characters of Quack Pack. He’s Robin Williams, being the perfect guy to shake up the establishment and make everyone’s lives better by being obnoxiously hip and bringing about the most obvious changes. I guess a great relationship between the two could help to save them, but I’m sorry, that whole Zing thing is just the lazy ‘love at first sight’ trope with a bullshit gimmick attached to it, which is supposed to cover up the fact that Mavis would have fallen for ANY laid back human that wandered into the hotel by accident.

Mavis does get more character under her in the sequel, although she also gets painted as WAY more gullible, too. We get to see her out of her element, which sets her up for some outstanding jokes that are completely independent of her father… She’s given her own arc, she’s given her own issue, even if Jonathan’s been reduced to just being along for the ride. Hey, he’s less annoying, so I’ll take it. The problem is that while Mavis’s role may have been beefed up, there’s another character who gets an even worse treatment… Vlad, Dracula’s father. Now, right off the bat(hahah), he creates a problem in terms of continuity… In the first movie, racism against human was perfectly explained. Dracula was afraid of them for killing his wife, and everyone else feared them by listening to his accounts. But in the sequel, we have no idea what caused Vlad’s racism, and he claims to have raised Drac to hate humans. The death of his wife is barely mentioned, when it was a strong plot point of the first movie. In addition, his gargoyle henchman feel like cheaply tacked-on villains, and he overcomes his prejudices way too fast just because his kid and granddaughter stood up to him once each. Bull. Shit.

This brings up two more important points… First of all, on the subject of continuity errors, there are a ton of them in the second movie. Remember when Murray the mummy was introduced in movie 1, riding a wave of sand into the hotel? Well, in this one, he’s suddenly too old to produce much sand without doing a dance that goes on for way too long to be funny and breaking his back and only producing a tiny pile. Remember when Wayne ate an entire flock of sheep? Well now, he thinks the idea of eating one little deer is too much trouble. Remember how vampires didn’t show in mirrors in the first movie, and are then shown to not show up in pictures right in the beginning of the second movie? Not only do they facetime each other throughout the second movie, Mavis is even captured on a convenience store security camera! That’s so lazy that it not only disregards the first movie, but the beginning of it’s OWN movie as well! And let’s not forget Dracula’s glare suddenly working now, after being blocked by contacts in the first movie. I could go on and on about this, but let’s get to the second point…

These movies do not know how to end. That’s probably my biggest problem with both of them. They promise some pretty deep commentary on the trials of parenting, but these themes are executed terribly. The plot is easily the weakest element of the first movie, and while I don’t know how I would have had Dracula overcome his fear of humans, even I can tell that the whole Monster Fest scene was fucking stupid. On top of which, Mavis’s desire to leave the castle and see the world was dropped and replaced with emo boy drama, and the resolution… Which would have better involved her traveling the world and meeting new people… ends with her marrying the first boy she ‘fell in love at first sight’ with. Talk about one step forward, two steps back. But hey, now that she has a boy toy who wants to stay at the cool castle, Dracula doesn’t have to let her go! Oh, and the second movie was even worse. By having the kid turn out to be a vampire, you’re taking a message about accepting your children for who they are and ending it with “Don’t worry, as long as you’re accepting, your dreams for them will come true. Accepting the possibility of a gay kid is the best way to get a straight kid.”

Actually, I’m pretty sure the only reason the kid turned out to be a vampire was so nobody would move away from the hotel, and then the third movie could still be called Hotel Transylvania. It was all in the interest of preserving the status quo. Honestly, I felt really proud of Drac when he realized he was wrong and caught Dennis from falling, but nope, he’s still a vampire. I don’t know about you, but I was hoping for something more bold… If, after Mavis stood up to Vlad, the old fogie had brought up the important element of vampire romances that Hotel Transylvania had spent two movies avoiding… Mortality. Johnathan will grow old and die, while Mavis and Dennis wouldn’t. If there was any tangible reason for Vlad to oppose their union, that would be it. And then Dennis would turn out to be human, so at Mavis’s request, Vlad would use his ancient magic to turn her human. Hell, after she left, Drac could have demanded the same treatment, moved to California with his daughter, and left the hotel in the hands of his friends. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see Dracula and Mavis, as humans, freaking out over the wonders of the human world together? Trying all the Slushy flavors together? But hey, who cares about consequences and hard decision when we have big dance numbers, because Shrek did it?

So, are these good movies? No, not really. Are they ANY good? Yeah, I think there’s some good in them. If nothing else, the only people who won’t enjoy them are the people who have expectations of them… People like me, who see hints of depth and thoughtfulness, are going to be disappointed with the over-all product. People who are just looking for comedy and outstanding animation will find it in spades, especially with the lightning fast, energetic pace of the first movie. The second movie is a lot more heavy on plot, which makes it’s failure all the more catastrophic, but it’s easy to set aside nit picking and laugh your ass off at the first movie, especially around this particular time of year. The humor is effective for both adults and children, and it does so without ever really being inappropriate, which alone makes it worthy of being praised. Opinions on the sequel may vary, although it does contain some harmful messages… Such as “Draculas are never ‘just friends…’ But I can highly and enthusiastically recommend watching the original Hotel Transylvania, either with your kids, your friends or yourself, as a special Halloween treat. Just, you know, go in with reasonable expectations.

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4 comments
  1. Yeah, these movies are far from being top-tier, but they’re just plain fun.

  2. Movies that aren’t great on a technical level (and therefore get lambasted on Rotten Tomatoes) can still be entertaining. I haven’t watched the Transylvania movies because I tend to shy away from CG stuff (be it western or anime) but I know people who liked these films.

    I guess Sandler puts little effort into making movies these days because low brow stuff seems good enough to make him big bucks. Shame because he is talented. I have liked a number of his earlier flicks.

  3. I liked Happy Gilmore and Funny People. Honestly, though when I think of him putting out funny material, I always think of his SNL days moreso than any of his movies.

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