It was not until I paused Hotel Transylvania (2012) about fifteen minutes in that I realized Adam Sandler was voicing Dracula. That is not a good thing, at least not in my book. There was a time in the 1990s and early 2000s when people thought he was funny, but I guess that went away. Gee, I wonder why. . . ? Oh yeah, because he was making the same movie over and over again. There is only one film of his that I will still watch, and that is 50 First Dates (2004). Still, it has the same cast of characters, the same jokes, and the same strange mouth noises you have come to expect from the usual Sandler fare. You may think that since Hotel Transylvania is animated that it might have at least some variety. But, no, it is everything described above but in cartoon form. Sigh. And they made three of these things! I cannot thank you all enough for putting me through this. . . .
Given the title, Hotel Transylvania, it will be no surprise that the film focuses on the legendary vampire Dracula. Yet, it begins in 1895? Is that a nod to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, even though that was published in 1897? These are the things I wonder about when I watch these movies. Anyway, forget everything you know about vampires. Because this is animated and for children, they were not going to have creatures of the night stalking human victims in order to violently feast on their blood by biting their necks. Instead, we get a big-eyed, smiling Dracula, who teaches Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez), his vampire daughter (no idea how that works), that humans are the real monsters. In order to protect her and other such freaks (imagine all the ghouls and goblins of popular culture and you get the gist), Dracula decides to build a hotel far away from man’s prying hands where they can be themselves in peace. Fast forward 118 years and Mavis has grown up (finally?) and is eager to explore the world. Despite the fact that dad had brought her up on tales of the evil things humans do, she assumes that they cannot all be bad and is eager to see what life is like beyond the walls of the castle/hotel. It is also her 118th birthday, and Dracula had promised his daughter that on that day she would be allowed to leave to see the world. However, because all the usual monsters had arrived for this occasion to throw her a party, he asks that she keep her wanderings close to home at first. This is all part of this plan because the nearby town they agree to her briefly visiting is a fake, populated by his zombie minions dressed as people. They are there to scare her into thinking that humans are still bad, and for a time this works. His plan is imperiled, though, when who should stumble upon the hotel, undeterred by all the preventive measures put in place to keep his kind out, but a man named Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg). He is a dopey dude backpacking his way through Europe, and despite Dracula’s attempts to get rid of him he manages to stick around. Because he will not simply go away, Dracula dresses him up like mini Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James), and attempts to pass him off as a party planner for Mavis’ birthday celebration. Unsurprisingly, Dracula is unable to stop his daughter’s curiosity in this new arrival, and eventually Mavis and Jonathan fall in love. Everybody else at the hotel seems keen on Jonathan too, and even Dracula warms up a little, if that is possible. Nonetheless, when Mavis kisses Jonathan, Dracula feels threatened. Not wishing to upset a vampire, Jonathan finally leaves, breaking Mavis heart. They had “zinged,” after all, the film’s silly way of describing love. Seeing his daughter crushed, he decides to go after Jonathan, in the daylight no less. Using his vampire powers, Dracula flies as a bat up to the plane Jonathan takes off in (because, you know, bats can keep up with jets), mind controls the pilot to turn it around, and returns Jonathan to the hotel. And I guess all live happily ever after?
Apologies, I suppose, to Adam Sandler and company, but I cannot switch my brain off, even while watching something like Hotel Transylvania. However, I get it, it is not aimed at a guy like me. So, instead of listing a number of flaws like I did with The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), I will talk more about the few things I did like. I may not enjoy the fart jokes, or understand how anyone at the hotel knows what Doritos are, but I have to say that I appreciate Dracula as a dad. Gosh, that was difficult to write. Now, in general, I would remind viewers that Christianity and vampires do not mix. Traditionally, one of the things that repels vampires are Crosses, and they have long been associated with evil. Such things should be avoided, and I think that is reasonable considering vampires have to kill their victims to stay alive. Western culture has long been too fascinated with these creatures to my tastes. Nonetheless, Hotel Transylvania avoids this topic by telling us that Dracula and his daughter feed on blood supplements. Whatever. What makes Dracula at least acceptable in a Christian sense here is the care he has for his child. Fathers are called to protect their children, and he does that well. They also need to let go at some point, and that is clearly the tension in the film. It is hard for a parent to raise someone, give them all the love they can, and then happily see them off whenever they want to leave. And while Dracula does attempt to lie to Mavis, he does eventually realize his mistake and is willing to risk life and limb to make up for it.
Because of the way people think of vampires today, I do not know if I recommend Hotel Transylvania. If you are a parent with a young one wanting to watch it, I would be cautious. There are a lot of bad things out there associated with vampires, fantasies that usually involve sex. I am not sure where this all started, but it is certainly a part of how we look at these mythical creatures today. Despite the Adam Sandler nonsense, there are some good lessons in the movie, not only about being a good dad but accepting others. Hooray for that, but I would not want to see this lead to further interest in vampires.