Monsters as heroes is a pretty popular theme in pop culture. Vampires are more likely to be dreamy lovers than smelly undead bloodsuckers these days. And long before “Twilight” and its ilk, Tim Burton made the ghoulish seem normal with “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Heck, “Sesame Street” took the word “monsters” and stood it on its head more than 40 years ago but using it to refer to cute fuzzy Muppets.
Maybe that’s why “Hotel Transylvania” doesn’t feel terribly original. The entire premise is based on the idea that werewolves, mummies, vampires, alien blobs and zombies are outcasts hiding out from the fearsome clutches of humans who want to destroy them. The eponymous inn is the place where they get to come once a year to hang out and party in safety.
Of course, if things are so bad out there, it begs the question of why they don’t all just live in the hotel year round. But applying logic to a movie like this is like Dracula deciding he needs a tan.
Speaking of Dracula, he’s voiced by Adam Sandler doing a sort of Borscht Belt version of the familiar Bela Lugosi accent. Here he’s a single dad trying to run a business where the help consists of mindless zombie bellboys and haunted suits of armor. Meanwhile, he’s raising a rebellious teen daughter — as in 118 years old — named Mavis (Selena Gomez).
She wants to go out into the world to see what there is to see, but Drac takes steps to convince her to stick around. After all, the big annual event on the monster calendar is her birthday, and he’s invited all his friends and regular guests to celebrate.
The animators did a great job with the various creatures, giving them a cool cartoony look with exaggerated features. The target audience here is kids who count their age in single digits, so nothing’s terribly scary. (The PG rating is mostly for a few moments involving gastrointestinal humor.)
If anything, director Genndy Tartakovsky, a TV veteran making his feature film debut, doesn’t linger long enough on the monsters so we can appreciate all the little details. This movie often feels like it’s being spurred on by hurry-up pacing.
I did like the way Frankenstein (Kevin James) is held together with flimsy stitches that are apt to give way, leaving him a collection of parts. Or the werewolf is named Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and resembles a hectored businessman with a pushy wife and rambunctious passel of pups.
Other notable cast members are a mummy (CeeLo Green) and Invisible Man (David Spade), who’s rendered as a disembodied pair of glasses.
The fly in the ointment is Jonathan, an adventure-seeking young human (Andy Samberg) who stumbles upon the hotel while backpacking across Europe. Dracula makes him up to resemble a distant cousin of Frankenstein and introduces him as the party planner for Mavis, who soon is casting goo-goo eyes at him.
The whole thing devolves into a slamming-doors farce, with people chasing each other, stumbling into awkward situations, doing double-takes and spinning webs of lies that are soon found out.
Jonathan is about as endearing as Samberg’s live-action losers, hyperfast-talking slackers who register somewhere between mentally challenged and just plain dim. I kept thinking what the movie would’ve been like without him. Better, certainly.
With its emphasis on boingy action and goofy comedy, “Hotel Transylvania” is meant to do little more than distract wee tykes for a little while, and for that demographic it might do the job. The adults accompanying them will just wonder how soon they can check out.