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Friday, September 28, 2012


By: MattInRC 

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA is sidesplittingly funny, inventive, just a little gross, and is the best animated feature of 2012 so far.11 2012 has been a rough year for Adam Sandler. Party to one of the worst films of all time in the disgusting/disturbing/ridiculous That's My Boy, it proved that the SNL alumni must leave producing films to more competent people. Another actor with similar troubles is Kevin James, whose fat-man loser comedy persona failed to resonate with fans in the totally forgettable Zookeeper (in which Sandler has a cameo). And in the best example of misery enjoying company, the two joined forces to destroy Grown Ups and The Dilemma. So it goes without saying that the release of HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA  was viewed with a healthy amount of skepticism by critics hoping for greatness but prepared for disaster. Gladly, I can say they've finally done something well: HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA is a hilarious film that helps to redeem our fallen stars to a level that might allow us to forget their previous disasters.

Count Dracula (Adam Sandler, Happy Gilmore) has raised his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez, Monte Carlo) since she was very young; overprotective to the extreme, he sets out to build a magnificent castle to shield her and his other monster allies from the human world. It was the humans' misunderstanding of Dracula which caused his wife's untimely death, and he isn't about to lose his head-strong daughter, even if her dreams are to see the world. Contrary to popular opinion, Dracula isn't the blood-sucking mass murderer that every human fears: he sings, laughs, and actually doesn't suck blood, choosing a 'blood substitute' instead. As Mavis has grown, so has the family business: once per year, Dracula entertains a host of familiar ghoulish faces, including Frankenstein (Kevin James, Barnyard), Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi, Reservoir Dogs) and his pregnant wife Wanda (Molly Shannon), Murray the mummy (singer Cee-Lo Green), and Griffin the invisible man (David Spade, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry). As Dracula's friends gather for Mavis' 118th birthday, a 21-year-old human backpacking trekker (Andy Samberg, Saturday Night Live) accidentally finds the hidden passage to the castle, which to this time has been fully protected by an evil forest and a cemetery filled with zombies. Johnathan is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his laid-back party attitude instantly grabs the attention of Frankenstein and crew, as well as Mavis. Worried that his hotel guests will uncover the truth, Dracula disguises Johnathan as Frank's long-lost cousin, hoping to quietly escort him off the property. Caught between protecting his daughter and his growing affection for the human, the Prince of Darkness must decide whether to come out of the shadows and embrace humanity or remain locked behind his castle doors forever.

Director Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack) and Writers Peter Baynham (Borat) and Robert Smigel (Saturday Night Live) create a believable and thoroughly entertaining affair by wrapping inventive adult scenes around kid friendly situations. Even the various fart and naked invisible man jokes are hilarious because they help to serve the script without becoming cheap props. But there's more going on than wild jocularity: the key here is that Samberg, James, and Sandler aren't working from one of their own flawed scripts but are instead working for someone else. This gives them the freedom to pursue their character's underpinnings without losing themselves in cheap sexually-referenced jokes. Sandler is actually very good as Dracula: his deep voice is a welcome relief from all the 'Sloppy Joe Loser'-sounding characters he's played over the years. There is evidence of both tenderness when Mavis runs away and anger when defending her in front of his friends. While James and Samberg are suitable, one must credit Gomez for her portrayal of Mavis. There are several very good secondary performances by Buschemi, Spade, and John Lovitz (A League of Their Own), all of whom make the most of their time in front of the audience.

With The Pirates! Band of Misfits in its lineup, Columbia Pictures has now proven it can develop great animated features that can appeal to a wider audience. And while the 3-D version is certainly not worth the extra cash, this effort does contain many of the elements which must power the future of 3-D: deep, layered backgrounds with incredible attention to both humans and ghouls alike.

Driven by a strong coming-of-age story and a solid collection of supporting voices, Hotel Transylvania reminds us that Sandler, James, and Samberg can make a funny family film while maintaining their comic roots. Adam Sandler proves he can be funny without being gross, allowing us to forget his recent and numerous mistakes, and giving us some hope that he will eventually mature into a real comedian who doesn't need crass to sell tickets. Once again, the 3-D conversion fails to impress but proves the industry is maturing towards doing the right kind of 3-D. Columbia Pictures proves it can roll with Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks, in many ways outperforming the competition. I do hope it receives an Oscar nod in its category, so make sure you see it on the big screen. But be prepared to laugh along with your kids - it really is that good. Hotel Transylvania is rated a surprising PG for...well, I'm not really sure, unless references to farting are now the new standard for a PG rating.

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