Much like Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, and so many other comedians before him, Adam Sandler has entered that period in his career where he wants to entertain children. Hang around in the world of big budget comedies long enough and eventually even small subversive impulses will slip aside once you’re old enough to have children in your life who want to see your movies. I guess Adam was weary of dumping Billy Madison on the youngins right away, so over the last ten years Sandler has started slipping more family fare into his resume. It started with Eight Crazy Nights, then descended into all new levels of bland with “comedies” like Bedtime Stories and Grown Ups. The reviews were dreadful, the box office tallies were higher than anything he’d ever made. So, it appears that whenever Sandler isn’t raunching it up in Happy Madison’s filthiest productions, the man will make poo-poo jokes for the kiddies. His latest family movie is the CGI monster mash Hotel Transylvania. On the bright side, it’s also easily the best kid-friendly movie Sandler has ever put his name on. Now, given what came before that’s not saying much, but it’s still far better than anyone could have anticipated.
The gothic CGI silliness casts Sandler in the voice of Count Dracula (which essentially means that the count has Sandler’s haircut and a voice that sounds an awful lot like Triumph The Insult Comic Dog). After having the love of his life taken away by a pitch-fork wielding mob, Dracula abandoned the human world entirely and set up a high end resort Hotel in Transylvania where all the monsters can come hang out and have a break from the daily scaring grind. The film takes place just in time for his daughter Mavis’ (Selena Gomez) big 118th birthday party, so the whole gang comes to town. Frankenstein (Kevin James), the wolf man (Steve Buscemi), the invisible man (David Spade), and co all come to visit along with their monster families for a big ol’ party. The trouble is that Dracula is a little overprotective of his daughter. He promised her that at 118, she would be aloud to visit the human word, but sets up a fake town of horrible humans played by his zombie staff to ensure she never wants to try it again. However, things get tricky when a charming backpacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) shows up to the hotel. Worried the monsters will freak at the sight of a human in their party, he makes Jonathan dress up like a monster. Soon the cool party dude backpacker totally has all the monsters chilling out and sparks a little love in Mavis. But he’s human! What’s a dad/hungry vampire to do?
Hotel Transylvania pulls all of the classic Universal Monsters together just in time for Halloween, but don’t worry about upsetting the little ones. These monsters are even more sanitized than they were in the strictly monitored 30s horror movies. Dracula has given up blood and if any of the other guys still like scaring, they certainly have no intention of doing so during this much needed vacation. This is sanitized Halloween fun, and you know what? Who cares? Fact: kids love monsters and there’s nothing wrong with giving them a safe zone to enjoy their favorite Halloween costumes being silly. Co-screenwriters Peter Baynham (Borat, Arthur Christmas) and Robert Smigel (SNL’s Saturday TV Funhouse) clearly enjoy monsters and come up with some amusing things for them to do. It’s a shame neither is able to flash their subversive wit (I’ll bet the script meetings occasionally delved into a hilariously adult version we’ll never see), they write some undeniably entertaining monster sitcom gags. There’s also something amusing about hearing the voices of all of Sandler’s old SNL buddies coming out of familiar fanged faces, with Spade sarcastic invisible man and John Lovitz’s whiny Quasimodo offering particularly amusing casting. Throw in veteran animation director Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack) to ensure that the few set pieces have some whiplash kinetic verve in 3D and you’ve got yourself some perfectly pleasant family entertainment.
Pleasant is the right word because the movie never really aims far above the status quo. It’s all very safe in a way young children can enjoy while shutting out any potential crossover appeal beyond vaguely amused parents. This being a Sandler movie, all of the jokes come in a rush in the first hour so that the last thirty minutes can be dedicated to beating a sentimental message to death. In this case, we learn that parents shouldn’t shelter their kids and should instead let them bloom. Now, that’s not the first theme that pops to mind when imagining a monster movie, but it’s exactly what was necessary to allow producers to sign off the movie as having heart and give everyone involved a big ol’ paycheck. As a fan of the comedic minds and classic monsters on display, there’s no denying the mild sense of disappointment in what could have been a far more odd or adventurous project destined for perennial Halloween viewing. Sadly, Hotel Transylvania just doesn’t not live up to the potential of becoming a new holiday classic. However, the thing is a perfectly pleasant way for families to kill off a Saturday this weekend under a mountain of popcorn. I suppose that’s enough for this sort of thing, it’s just a shame Sandler seems incapable of setting his aim a little higher these days. He’s got the talent, superstar power, and collection of buddies to be cranking out some truly memorable comedies. Let’s just hope he gets over his gratingly commercial/sentimental impulses someday and goes for something beyond the norm. He’s certainly capable of doing it, even if the project ends up being aimed at kids.
It's all good clean fun and there's something undeniably amusing about hearing Steve Buscemi play the Wolf Man or David Spade play The Invisible Man.
As with all of Sandler's family friendly fair it's pretty bland and falls apart in the last act while trying to force sickly sweet messages on the audience.