[Screen It]


(2012) (voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez) (PG)

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Animated Comedy: Dracula's plans to celebrate his daughter's 118th birthday at a hotel he's created that's for monsters only are interrupted when a human tourist unexpectedly drops in.
Having promised his late wife long ago to care for their daughter, Dracula (voice of ADAM SANDLER) has fulfilled that for more than a century and has seemingly created the coup de grace of that effort by creating the Hotel Transylvania, a lodging establishment for monsters only. With its grand opening coinciding with the 118th birthday of daughter Mavis (voice of SELENA GOMEZ), he's planning on a big celebration. The only problem is that Mavis longs for going out into the real world despite her dad's warnings about the dangers of humans toward their kind.

After proving that by allowing her to travel to a fake village populated by his zombie servants posing as threatening humans, Dracula is pleased to hear she'll never leave the castle again. Accordingly, the hotel opening and birthday celebrations begin with a plethora of monsters showing up, including Frankenstein (voice of KEVIN JAMES) and his wife, Eunice (voice of FRAN DRESCHER); werewolves Wayne (voice of STEVE BUSCEMI), Wanda (voice of MOLLY SHANNON) and their many pups; Griffin (voice of DAVID SPADE) the invisible man; and Murray (voice of CEELO GREEN) the mummy.

An unexpected guest turns out to be Jonathan (voice of ANDY SAMBERG), an American backpacker with a surfer dude attitude. Rather than let things get out of hand, Dracula has him pose as a monster party planner, unaware that sparks will fly between him and Mavis. As he tries to keep the hotel and birthday celebrations on course, Dracula must contend with that as well as the castle's chef, Quasimodo (voice of JON LOVITZ), who's certain there's a human among them who would make for a good meal.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Back when I was growing up, monsters were scary entities, be that in my imagination (and under the bed or in the closet late at night) or on TV and in the movies. Sure, there'd be the occasional rerun of an old "Abbott and Costello Meet..." movie that played humorously off the old legends of Frankenstein, Mummy and so forth. But even kid-friendly fair such as the Scooby-Doo cartoons had some scary monster moments.

Then, in 2001 and thanks to the marvelous "Monsters, Inc." we learned they were just working stiffs making a living like the rest of us (well, sort of like everyone else who collected children's fright as an energy source). Now, more than a decade later we're reminded once again that monsters are misunderstood and have problems too in "Hotel Transylvania."

Like its Pixar crafted predecessor, this film also arrives in computer animated form and puts a spin on the usual view of monsters. Sadly, that's where the favorable comparisons end. Frenetic rather than inspired and featuring an emerging plotline that has been done so many times before that any notion of novelty immediately flies out the window like a vampire-transformed bat, the flick might entertain younger kids weaned on ADD style entertainment. For everyone else, this is something of a slog to sit through.

As crafted by director Genndy Tartakovsky and screenwriters Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel, the film opens with a quick montage of Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler doing his exaggerated shtick) raising his young vampire daughter. That ends with his opening of the titular lodging establishment designed as a refuge of sorts for all monsters from the evil, persecutory and thus dangerous humans that exist outside its remote walls.

Dimwitted zombies serve as the hotel staff, while Dracula's family and friends -- including Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James), the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), the Invisible Man (David Spade) and a fairly rotund Mummy (CeeLo Green) arrive into a frenetic beehive of activity (think of the headquarters scenes in "Men in Black" with all of the aliens crisscrossing each other's paths and you'll get a sense of the visual mayhem). While there's a lot occurring on the screen, the filmmakers don't really do much of anything original, creative or fun with that material other than pump it full of frenetic energy.

The unexpected arrival of a backpacker (Andy Samberg) with a surfer dude type mindset seems like it might instill something interesting into the mix, but having him then pretend to be a fellow monster doesn't end up doing much. Of course, he's introduced so that he can make goo-goo eyes over Dracula's coming of age daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez) who's just turned 118. She wants to see the real world and is regaled by the newcomer's tales of what he's seen, but her overprotective dad has made sure to scare her enough about humans to make her decide to be a homebody.

Had Pixar (or at least an earlier incarnation of that production house before the two most recent disappointments) gotten its hands on this sort of material, they likely would have jazzed up those plotlines to make them more interesting, and surrounded and stuffed them with all sorts of imaginative flourishes to make the entire effort a delight.

Alas, Tartakovsky and company aren't the Pixar of old (or even a close runner-up) and thus we're left with a fairly listless offering that retreads the old overprotective dad and wanting-to-spread-her-wings daughter storyline we've seen too many times before, and peppers that with frenetic zaniness that simply isn't fun to behold (unless you're one of those aforementioned kids who enjoys such visual mania).

And although the visuals are lush and fun to behold (including some fluid camera movement through the air that's impressive), the vocal work is mediocre at best, and the inclusion of pop songs (both to liven up things even more but also help sell the soundtrack) doesn't feel congruous with the rest of the pic. While "Hotel Transylvania" obviously pales in comparison to its monster-related animated predecessor, its makers could have learned a thing or two by watching Bud and Lou tangling with monsters more than half a century ago. This pic rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 20, 2012 / Posted September 28, 2012

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