I finally caught Hotel Transylvania on DVD a while back, and I’m so glad I didn’t bother with that movie when it first came out. The animation may have been sterling, but the 3D must have been annoying as fuck. There were some clever ideas, cute jokes, and creative moments, but they were all strung together with a cliched, flimsy, predictable plot. The voice acting was subpar and the music… look, can we all please come together and agree as civilized people that “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO qualifies as a crime against humanity?
Still, I saw enough good in the first film that I was willing to give the sequel a shot. This was due in large part to the return of maestro Genndy Tartakovsky, whose direction greatly enhanced the first movie’s heart and comedic timing. And of course, any child of the ’90s can tell you that he’s one of the greatest talents in animation we have right now.
Moreover, the first movie had five credited writers, and the script definitely suffered for being written by committee. The sequel, on the other hand, has only two credited writers. One of them is returning screenwriter Robert Smigel, better known as Triumph the Motherfucking Insult Comic Dog. The other one is Adam Sandler, which is a bit of a red flag, but whatever.
I never needed this film to be perfect. I only needed this movie to build on what strengths the prequel had, and to be a better movie. Given the talent involved and the low bar set by the first film, that didn’t seem like too much to ask. Yet even by that low standard, the movie still fails.
We open with the wedding of Mavis and Jonathan (still respectively played by Selena Gomez and Andy Samberg), after their romance arc in the previous film. From there, the first act flashes through the birth and infancy of their son (Dennis, voiced by newcomer Asher Blinkoff). The rest of the story takes place just before Dennis’ fifth birthday, which is the deadline for his fangs to grow in. But because Dennis is only half-vampire, nobody is really sure whether Dennis will even get his fangs. It’s entirely possible that he could turn out to be a mere mortal, and therefore perhaps better suited to live in Suburbia than Transylvania.
Though of course Dracula (Sandler, natch) is desperately certain that his grandson is a vampire. So in the interest of coaxing those fangs out, Dracula tries to spend some “quality time” with Dennis, going through all the monster stuff that Drac and his friends did when they were Dennis’ age. There are two problems with this. One, Dracula hasn’t been that young in centuries and the world has changed to be a lot more “kid-friendly” in the time since. It’s become frowned upon to throw a child — even a vampire child — off a tall building with the hope that the youngster will learn how to fly before he goes splat. Which brings me to the second problem, namely that Dennis may not actually be a vampire and may not even survive the well-intentioned trial by fire.
As with the first movie, the premise has potential. Because humans and monsters have come to coexist peacefully in the time since the previous film, there are so many possibilities for subtle jokes about old-fashioned bigotry and life in a more open, integrated world. Moreover, a huge plot point of the previous film was Mavis’ yearning to go see the outside world, and now we have a chance to finally see that dream realized, along with all the fish-out-of-water humor that entails. The same goes for the other monsters, as Dracula and his friends react to how jaded and politically correct humans — and even their fellow monsters! — have become in the past few centuries.
A lot of these possibilities do yield some decent jokes. And as with the first movie, a lot of that is thanks to Tartakovsky, such a fantastic animation director that he made just about all of the sight gags land. But then we have to deal with the story.
Everything in this movie — and everything in the prequel, come to think of it — boils down to the conceit that Dracula is wrong. Everything that he does and says and thinks through the first two acts is entirely wrong. We know that he’s wrong. The other characters know that he’s wrong and say that he’s wrong. And no matter how many times he acts on his old-fashioned beliefs, he’s repeatedly proven to be wrong. Every joke in both movies is some variation of that basic point, and the filmmakers keep on humiliating Dracula with how wrong he is, like that joke is never going to get old. And all the while, we’re stuck waiting for Dracula to finally give up his pride and reach the same conclusion everybody else has, which makes for a slow, boring, predictable slog of a narrative. And at least in the previous film, Dracula had the backstory of his dead wife to bring some measure of pathos to his motivations. Here, we’ve got nothing.
Which brings me to another crucial problem: Because we know that Dracula is wrong, we know that it won’t ultimately matter whether Dennis is a human or a vampire. The boy doesn’t have to conform to anyone’s standards and he’s awesome just the way he is. We know that this is going to be the moral of the story. It’s explicitly told to us right at the outset, before Dennis is even born. So if the central conflict of the movie is about whether Dennis turns out to be a human or a vampire, and if we know that it ultimately doesn’t matter whether he’s a human or a vampire, then why are we sitting through this goddamn movie?
Of course, it certainly doesn’t help that Dennis — the central figure in the plot, remember — isn’t a very interesting character. A lot of that comes from his voice actor, here turning in a performance that’s frankly pathetic. I can understand why Sadie Sandler was brought in to voice another child character, given Sandler’s notorious proclivity toward working with people he already knows regardless of talent. But the filmmakers should have and easily could have given this pivotal role to an experienced voice actor who could voice a five-year-old in such a way that no one in the audience would be the wiser. Or at the very least, they could have given the character something — ANYTHING — to talk about, aside from inane babble, so that we might have something about this kid to latch onto.
Sadly, those complaints extend to the rest of the cast as well. Every single character has only just enough motivation to serve the plot, and only just enough personality to serve the comedy. The characters are so poorly fleshed out that I couldn’t tell you a single thing about them that I didn’t learn from the last movie, and that’s not much. I’m also sorry to say that the voice acting is still a waste of talent. And that’s an even bigger shame this time around, because now we’ve got Mel friggin’ Brooks here to slum it.
Everything about this movie, for good and for ill, can be summed up in the climax. It’s beautifully animated, with a lot of fantastic sight gags, but it’s perfunctory. The climax is motivated by two-dimensional characters who show up to wreak havoc because that’s just what happens when the third act is halfway over. Things happen out of the blue because the plot demands it, and there’s never even the slightest bit of doubt or tension about how everything is going to end up.
As for miscellaneous notes, I’m sorry to say that there’s a lot of obnoxious product placement with regards to Sony electronics. I was also unhappy to find that the music selections and dance breaks are just as annoying and pointless as they were in the first movie. Only this film goes a step further and has Mavis do a whole bunch of outlandish bike stunts for no reason. I should also add that I saw both movies in 2D, because I can’t begin to imagine what all of this nonsense would be like in three dimensions. The audience would have to be on a two-hour sugar high to process all of that without getting a stroke.
Hotel Transylvania 2 is a waste. It’s a waste of talent, it’s a waste of time, and it’s a waste of opportunity. Given the fantastic animation and the premise that opens itself up to some delightful monster parodying, this series had the potential to be something incredible. And I’m done hoping for that potential to be realized.
Both this movie and its prequel were perfectly content to be flashy and occasionally funny, with only the bare minimum of effort put into story, themes, and character development. And that’s not gonna cut it anymore. Not after The Lego Movie, The Boxtrolls, Song of the Sea, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Big Hero 6, and that was just last year. This year, we got Inside Out and Shaun the Sheep Movie, both of which were glistening with innovation and polish. Hell, this film came packaged with a trailer for The Peanuts Movie, and those two minutes had more character development and raw sincerity than this 90-minute film ever did. And that’s just in movies — in TV, we’ve gone through Avatar: The Last Airbender, Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, Adventure Time, and so many other cartoon shows that keep on pushing the envelope.
Animation and family entertainment are going through a renaissance right now. The bar is being raised on such a constant basis that there is no longer any room for mediocre dreck like the Hotel Transylvania series. Time to shut this franchise down and put Genndy Tartakovsky’s incredible talents toward a more deserving project.
Oh, and if Adam Sandler could finally cash in his chips, that’d be great too.