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Movie Madness: Hotel Transylvania

Hotel Transylvania delights more than terrifies.

This is the inaugural posting of what I hope (intend) will be a regular column of reviews of movies targeted towards kids: your basic G, PG, and PG-13 fare. I happen to like movies a lot. I also am a mother who likes children a lot. But films made for kids….not so much.

There is a cynicism towards cranking out children’s movies, and a crassness about the monetary motive that I find particularly offensive
when directed at society’s least-discerning consumers. In less Marxist terms, let’s face it: a lot of kids’ movies are really, really boring. I’m talking falling asleep shortly after breaking open the first package of Sour Patch Kids.

So it is a pleasure to report that Hotel Transylvania was quite a delightful foray into the world of children’s entertainment. It takes some basic premises of today’s child-rearing culture (over-anxious parenting; adult fears of the dangers that lurk behind every unexplored corner; cocooning the child in a “perfect” and controlled world) and turns them upside-down: the helicopter-parent in question is Dracula, and the monsters that stalk the wider world are plain old human schlubs.

Dracula is a loving and protective single parent, moved only to bare his fangs when he fears someone threatens his precious only child, Mavis. (I am hard-pressed to think of a less seductive name for a budding female vampire.) The animation—while not the most luxurious—serves the story
well, as when we see Dracula teaching his little girl how to convert into a bat and fly….and she’s a tiny airborn rodent wearing a teensy pink crash helmet, provided by her doting Papa.

Dracula is voiced by Adam Sandler, who I think gets a bum rap for his puerile early movies. In his later films Sandler has revealed himself to be both funny and pretty clearly an adult who loves and wants to protect kids. He does a great job in this film, sending up all the clichés of the vampire genre.

Some elemental tragedy early in Mavis’ childhood (revealed midway through the film and handled gently enough that it shouldn’t upset most children) caused Dracula to retreat to a remote cliff, where he built the standard-issue impregnable castle, blah blah blah….but then in a lovely twist, he tricks out the forbidding aerie as a luxe resort hotel, where all the world’s monsters can come to relax, safely away from the prying eyes and predatory pitchforks of humans. Dracula is refashioned as the hotelier par excellence. And Mavis is the Girl in the Stone Bubble.

The movie opens as the hotel is filling up with old friends here to celebrate a momentous birthday: Mavis’ 118th, which apparently is the long-awaited kick-off of adulthood in the vampire world.  Steve Buscemi’s Wayne the Wolfman brings his pack of misbehaving pups who run amok, prompting Dracula to scold them “Is that any way to behave? This is a hotel, not a cemetery!”

What Mavis wants for her birthday is to go into town and see the humans. Dracula tries to dissuade her, but finally concedes “You’re old enough to drive a hearse now, so you’re old enough to make your own decisions.” The experience is not what Mavis expected but is exactly what her over-protective father engineered, and Mavis retreats, her spirit broken, to the safety of her father’s castle.

But just as we can’t protect children from every threat, the humans come to Dracula’s resort. Well, one human: a proto-stoner (no drugs or alcohol are shown in this film, but we can recognize the type) named Jonathan, haplessly backpacking his way around the world who somehow lands in the castle. As Jonathan—not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but a good and true young man—realizes where he is and who his host is, he freaks out in a way that will make kids laugh. Dracula doesn’t want this kid around—he perceives the threat to Mavis as being that of a human, rather than that of a boyfriend—yet still is generous enough to explain that he doesn’t drink blood. “Human blood is so fatty, and you don’t know where it’s been. I drink Real Blood or BloodBeaters.”

There’s enough gross-out humor (gently handled) to make most kids laugh (the bug that spontaneously vomits from time to time was a particular hit at the showing I saw). The movie adroitly asks us to reconsider what we categorize as “normal” and as “sick,” as when Dracula, watching horrified as Jonathan digs around in his own eye for a drifting contact lens, says “That is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”

There are chase scenes through the castle (a bit ho-hum for me, but kids liked the crazed camera angles and stuff smashing everywhere) and even into the jet stream (where Dracula, in bat-form, braves sunlight to right a wrong he committed).

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to tell you that Dracula comes to accept and respect Jonathan, and the young man safely introduces Mavis to the beauties of the wider world that her father was protecting her from. It was a lovely scene when Mavis sees her first sunrise.

For kids and their adult handlers who know the monster stories from old films and their original books, there are plenty of references to catch and enjoy. The film is also loaded with famous voices, including Selena Gomez (Mavis), CeeLo Green, Kevin James (Frankenstein), David Spade, Fran Drescher, Jon Lovitz, and Andy Samberg (Jonathan). Whether you are a kid (probably not younger than 6 or so, unless you are pretty precocious) or a grown-up, there is a lot in this movie to enjoy!

A perspective from a young correspondent

I found Hotel Transylvania a wonderful movie. It stars the over-protective dad (haven’t we all been there?) who just wants his daughter to be safe. Personally, I found it very funny and touching to see everything that “Drac” will go through to protect Mavis, his daughter. I also enjoyed how it dismisses all of the monster stereotypes, and the roles of good and evil are switched. The animation was wonderful, if you ask me, despite what some people say, and lots of children will love the silly quotes and character designs. For example, my favorite line was Quasimodo’s “If you bump with the hump, you land on your rump”. The camera view was fun, almost like a rollercoaster (if you don’t like rollercoasters, consider the camera angles like riding a camel) and I definitely loved how monsters, especially “Drac” came to enjoy human company. It was wonderful to see a father opening up to his child and realizing that the child is growing up. (If only in real life....)

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