In a prologue set a hundred years ago, we see Dracula (Adam Sandler, his accent just this side of Opera Man), coddling his newborn baby daughter Mavis (later played by Selena Gomez) and assuring her that he would create a place where she'd be safe, away from the torch-carrying mobs of the human world. He sets about to create a paradise hotel for monsters, located in a large gothic castle, guarded on two sides by a haunted forest and a graveyard populated by some surprisingly spry zombies, and as the real story begins, monsters from all over are coming to the hotel for Mavis' milestone 118th birthday. In short order, Frankenstein (Kevin James), Murray the mummy (Cee-Lo Green), Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi) and his pregnant wife Wanda (Molly Shannon), and Griffin the invisible man (David Spade) are all at the hotel. That's right – all of the classic monsters are here, and they sound a whole lot like the cast of "Grown Ups."
Mavis, it goes without saying, yearns for life outside the castle, and so Jonathan's arrival is a major threat to the perfectly-calibrated life Dracula has cultivated at Hotel Transylvania. An overly protective father, Dracula sets up an elaborate ruse to show Mavis how awful the human world is, and conceals Jonathan's humanity in a kabuki smear of make-up. Jonathan, for his part, has the laid-back attitude of a trust funder who spends the first few years after high school just like, exploring himself, and stuff. (His overstuffed backpack is his most prized possession.) With his natural looseness, Jonathan does much to shake up the stuffy atmosphere of both the castle and its vampiric overlord.
Since 2006, no fewer than five directors have attempted to get a handle on "Hotel Transylvania," only to find the material too elusive, complicated, or unmanageable. It was finally (successfully) corralled by Genndy Tartakovsky, a genuine genius in the realm of modern animation. Tartakovsky created the sweetly surreal "Samurai Jack" before directing the initial set of "Star Wars: Clone Wars" micro-shorts for George Lucas and Cartoon Network (which made both the prequels and the current ongoing series seem like amateur hour in Dixie). He also did storyboard work for "Iron Man 2," having gained a reputation as a maestro of bloodless mayhem (the final fight sequence, with Iron Man and War Machine facing off against Whiplash in an Asian-themed World's Fair pavilion, is 100% pure Tartakovsky).
And while "ParaNorman" went for an '80s vibe, somewhere between John Carpenter and John Hughes, and "Frankenweenie" pays homage to the horror movies of the '50s and '60s, "Hotel Transylvania" uses the genre as wallpaper. You can spot some really nerdy details (there are floating brains, straight out of the schlock classic "Fiend Without a Face") but you kind of get the impression that Tartakovsky and his collaborators (most notably Peter Baynham and "Saturday Night Live" TV Funhouse mastermind Robert Smigel) don't have much reverence for the original material (and, during a presentation earlier this year, Tartakovsky told us that some legal struggles led them to jettison some classic imagery/character traits). Instead, they look at it as really colorful window dressing to tell the story of an overprotective father and his young daughter. In that sense, "Hotel Transylvania" is very different from its contemporaries. You just wish that, with so much emphasis on chaos, they could have spent a little more time on character. [B]