Once upon a time, in a haunted castle deep within a forest in foreboding Transylvania, a goofy slacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) fell in love with a beautiful vampire named Mavis (Selena Gomez). They zing with each other despite Mavis’s father Dracula (Adam Sandler) and friends against the union at first. Later, the monsters come to terms with the human/vampire love affair after coming out of the monster closet, so to speak, and revealing to the world their existence. Imagine their surprise to find out that people love them, and normal humans are flocking to stay at the titular Hotel Transylvania.
Like all couples in movie sequels, Jonathan and Mavis have moved past the honeymoon stage and have gone straight to the parenthood stage, with the pair having a little son named Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) who grows up under the watchful eye of Papa Drac and his friends Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Frankenstein (Kevin James), Murray the mummy (Keegan-Michael Key, replacing Cee-Lo Green), and Griffin the invisible man (David Spade cast perfectly, because when’s the last time you actually saw him in a movie?).
Of course, it goes without saying that little Dennis takes more after his father than his mother, which means more avocados and after-bath lotion and less drinking blood and terrorizing villagers. Fortunately, Vampa Drac – get it? Because you’ll get beaten over the head with it if you don’t – has a plan to bring the monster out of Dennis and to convince Mavis that staying around Transylvania is probably better for the family than moving to Santa Cruz. Mavis gets a taste for the outside, and Drac gets a chance to put some fangs in Dennis’s mouth without Mom’s interference.
Hotel Transylvania 2 is a threadbare excuse for a movie, but there are a lot of really talented people behind it.
Let’s start with the lazy script, from Sandler and Saturday Night Live legend Robert Smigel, who crafted some of the funniest, most seditious animation on television when he was the man behind the TV Funhouse shorts (and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog). Given a necessary neutering by people in power somewhere, Smigel and Sandler decide to go for jokes in bulk, with no scene going by without some kind of goofy mugging, a pun, or some little interesting bit of background work. The one thing you can say about Hotel Transylvania 2 is that it’s got more energy than pretty much every other Adam Sandler movie of recent years.
Just on the basis of mass, there are a lot of surprisingly successful jokes. A fun bit is when Kevin James’ Frankenstein, tasked with delaying Dracula’s human-hating father Vlad (a game but mostly ignored Mel Brooks), explains that his name isn’t Frankenstein, he’s actually Frankenstein’s monster.
That’s a cleverness that the script mostly lacks, but other little side characters, like a plot-singing Phantom of the Opera (Jon Lovitz), make a mark occasionally.
Another little subplot that works is Mavis’s visit to the wonders of a California mini-market, where she sucks down slurpees and enthuses about chips to a bored, monotone clerk named Kal (Smigel’s old friend Doug Dale). Various attempts by Jonathan’s parents (Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally) score points by playing up Mullally’s well-meaning insensitivity, like gothing up Jonathan’s bedroom to make Mavis feel more at home, or inviting other “mixed” couples over for an awkward Monster Mash dinner party (one of the “mixed” couples is a water monster and human woman while the other is just a furry hipster—who looks uncomfortably like me—mistaken for a werewolf).
However, in between the successful, quieter jokes is a lot of busy loudness, as if director Genndy Tartakovsky decided to fill in the space between good jokes with fast-moving animation in an attempt to keep kids interested. From the look of the audience around me in the movie, that was mostly successful. Tartakovsky knows how to make characters move in interesting ways, and the Universal Monster look-alikes stretch and bend and morph and even move in interesting ways when they’re on screen. There’s always something or another in motion, and giant leering heads frequently fill the screen when there’s nothing going on in the background.
There’s a lot of light and sound, and the movie seems to do an okay enough job keeping kids entertained. Perhaps if it gets a few kids in the audience to watch the classic monster movies when they’re a little bit older, it’ll be a net gain in the movie’s favour. However, the parts of the movie aimed at adults don’t work all that well, and it seems that a lot of the kid jokes fall flat, too. But there are so many of them, and the movie itself moves so quickly, that something’s going to land and kids probably aren’t going to be losing interest even if adults are probably going to be bored and annoyed. It’s just all concerned can do better.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan really hopes that kids actually look at the old Universal Monster movies, if only to get the joke about Bela the gargoyle at some point in the future. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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