By Jack Richardson
19th September 2012

Now more than ever, Hollywood wants your bottom dollar. Budgets explode, sequels multiply, and 3D assaults the senses as studios clamour for a slice of your hard-earned dough and dosh. The high-concept blockbuster is no longer enough to pack the multiplex: star wars have been fought (most likely in IMAX) and animatronic sharks jumped (in 3D Smell-O-Rama) in an effort to combat the increasingly disparate effects of home download, video-on-demand, and simple audience disinterest. In recent years, CG animation has seen the best and worst of this corporate filmmaking. Moderately cheap to produce, often critically accomplished, and legitimately made for 3D, the animated film has flourished in recent years… but not without casualties of the mass-marketing machine. For every 'Finding Nemo', there’s 'A Shark’s Tale'. For every 'Shrek', a ‘Shrek Goes Fourth’. 'Hotel Transylvania', from Sony Animation, is the latest CG film to attempt a critical cash-in. Is it worthy of your time – and more importantly, your money? The answer, resoundingly, is "no".

If 'Monsters, Inc.' taught us anything, it was that monsters are real, and more like us than we were led to believe. It’s hard work being a werewolf or Frankenstein’s monster – especially when nasty humans want to burn you alive or drive a steak through your heart. So where do they go to get away from it all? Why, Hotel Transylvania of course! This luxury haven for monsters, hidden for decades from the vilifying human world, is the brainchild of Count Dracula (yes, the one and only), designed from the dungeons up as the first and last name in ghoulish rest and relaxation. Drac (voiced by Adam Sandler) has gone all-out this year to celebrate the 118th birthday of his beloved daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), a wilful young woman who’s lived her life within the castle walls, dreaming of more than a provincial life. Enter Jonathan, the most unlikely of creatures to stumble upon the top-secret monster hideaway: a human backpacker. Hijinks ensue as Drac struggles to keep his hormonal daughter from the bumbling human, and out of the way of the hotel’s guests…


'Hotel Transylvania' is a very small story at heart, about family, the need to let go, and to embrace positive change. There’s no evil industrialist attempting to steal their land; no vampire hunter set on slaying the hotel staff. This is a story of a father and daughter, plain and simple, and while it’s hard to imagine anyone screwing up this basic narrative conceit, 'Hotel Transylvania’ does so admirably. The absolute worst in studio cash-in, the film is derivative of just about every successful animation of the past ten years, cobbling together a trite story of tolerance on the back of paper thin, emotionally truncated 'characters'. The concept, initially clever and fresh, is quickly worn out as the writers (formerly of 'SNL' and television comedy) fail to extend it beyond a ten-minute sitcom sketch. The monsters themselves reek of prefab calculation, stealing visually from Tim Burton by way of 'Far Far Away'.

The absolute worst in studio cash-in, the film is derivative of just about every successful animation of the past ten years.

While originality is often overrated, the film’s biggest crime is its complete lack of wit. 'Hotel Transylvania' is painfully unfunny, mistaking visual A.D.D. for slapstick, and an assumed shorthand of inherent funniness (vampires drawl like Bela Lugosi, and Frankenstein short-circuits) in place of actual jokes. The supporting cast (voiced by the likes of Steve Buscemi, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, and Andy Samberg) is redundant, visually reduced to "werewolf" and "invisible man" without purpose or meaning, or even character names. And while the film is desperate to convey an earnest tale of a possessive father letting go of his daughter’s childhood, it spends more time developing the bromance between the vampire and the human than the complexities of family. Nothing rings true (especially the distressingly conservative moral conclusion), and when the humour fails, the flimsy characters collapse under the weight of lame jokes and visual nonsense.

Director Grenndy Tartakovsky (better known in television for directing 'Dexter’s Laboratory', 'Powerpuff Girls', and 'Sym-Bionic Titan'), is an excellent 2D visualist, with an intelligent animated eye the genre often lacks. Sadly, he displays none of his skill in Sony's clumsy house style, and while shackled to a script so staggeringly unfunny and emotionally dead, there’s little he can do to add life to 'Hotel Transylvania'.

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