September 30, 2012

MOVIES: Hotel Transylvania (Genndy Tartakovsky, 2012)

Genndy Tartakovsky has had a successful career in TV animation -- he was the creator of Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack -- and now he makes his movie debut with Hotel Transylvania. It's a project that's gone through multiple directors and false starts, so it's probably not the pure product of Tartakovsky's vision, but it's still recognizable as his style.

The Hotel Transylvania was built by Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler, taking his voice into a deeper register than usual) as a refuge for monsters, a place where they could be safe from humans. His daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) is celebrating her 118th birthday, and all of Dracula's monster friends have shown up for a big birthday bash before he reluctantly lets her go out to explore the world on her own. But when a cute young human backpacker (Andy Samberg) stumbles into the place, the place is put in turmoil.

All your monster favorites are here, and a fairly impressive cast of names has been hired to voice them. Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon are Mr. and Mrs. Wolfman, Kevin James and Fran Drescher are the Frankensteins, David Spade is The Invisible Man, Jon Lovitz is Quasimodo (the hotel's chef), Ceelo Green is The Mummy. Some of them are better used than others -- Drescher is reduced to the obvious gag of whining about how LOOOOOOOOUD humans are, with such anNNNNNNOOOOOOOOYYYYing voices -- but on the whole, they bring the right kind of energy to the movie.

The story's not remotely surprising. Backpacker Jonathan and Mavis fall in love, forcing all of the monsters to deal with their anti-human prejudice, with happy endings for one and all. There is one nice touch near the end, when the monsters get to find out how they are really viewed by the modern world.

But if the movie's a bit flat on the story side, it's a visual delight. Tartokovsky's style is to cram the frame full; his sets and backgrounds are far more detailed than in most animation, and there are some marvelous crowd scenes with a lot of individually detailed characters. Dracula is a lovely creation, gliding silently through the corridors in his cape, with slender legs supporting a Superman torso.

Jonathan's arrival scene is a particular highlight, as is a Jonathan/Dracula chase through the hotel on flying banquet tables. I could have done without the cheesy pop song at the end of the movie, but when the cast includes Gomez and Green, it was probably inevitable (and hey! Monsters got Auto-Tune!).

If you enjoy animation for the art side of things, there's enough to see here that it's worth catching on the big screen. If you're just wanting to entertain the kids, you could just as easily wait for DVD or cable.

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