Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Andy Samberg, Steve Buscemi, CeeLo Green, David Spade
US theatrical: 28 Sep 2012 (General release)
UK theatrical: 12 Oct 2012 (General release)
What can it mean that Hotel Transylvania made $43 million on its opening weekend? Industry analysts have no good answers to this question. Yes, this best opening ever for Sony’s animation unit, surpassing The Smurfs (!), “benefited from a rare dearth of options for kids. The film marked the first new animated film in weeks.” And yes, 3D surcharges jacked up the numbers.
Experts predicted that Hotel Transylvania would take in $25 million. Its record-setting seems a particular achievement, given its lukewarm reviews (44% positive at Rotten Tomatoes). That part of the story draws attention to the broader story, that reviews are increasingly irrelevant to a film’s box office performance. This has to do with the changing economics of theatrical runs as well as marketing campaigns. “Quality,” of course, is no measure of success, as bad films might tank (Battleship), but they might not (Transformers: Dark of the Moon). The explanations remain elusive. Battleship‘s Liam Neeson is about to appear in the second film of an unexpected franchise: why is that named Taken and not The Grey?
And what makes Adam Sandler movies go? This one opens with his character, Count Dracula, looking after his baby girl, scaring her with his vampire tricks and then apologizing, a goofball dad doing his best to protect his precious child. (Mom is dead, owing to mean humans.) When Mavis grows up to be voiced by Selena Gomez, she’s a cute vampire. She wears black miniskirts and crawls on the walls, hangs upside down, and has cute little fangs that she doesn’t use to suck anyone’s blood; rather, she and Drac are the sorts of vampire who populate movies today, both drinking synthetic (by her dad’s reasoning, it’s safer, because you never know where real blood has been).
Mavis has spent all her young life in the castle Drac turned into a hotel for monsters back in 1895. Now that she’s turning 118 years old—a mere teenager in vampire years—she’s yearning to see the world outside and meet some people beyond her father’s circle of friends/hotel guests. It’s true, these friends are loving and protective: from Wayne the wolfman (Steve Buscemi) and Murray the mummy (CeeLo Green) to the Invisible Man (David Spade) and Frank the Frankenstein Monster (Kevin James), they all want to see Mavis happy and fulfilled. But even they can see that maybe Drac is a little over-protective, and it’s time for the lovely Mavis to spread her bat wings and venture forth.
And so, Hotel Transylvania begins with a familiar generational tension, complicated by the fact that the monsters have spent so many decades avoiding humans that they only barely remember them, carrying pitchforks and burning down monsters’ homes. They can’t know how times have changed… until a human arrives on their doorstep, just in time for Mavis’ birthday party.
Even then, when 21-year-old Jonathan (Andy Samberg) bumbles in with his backpack and disdain for legends concerning supernatural creatures, they can’t now, for Drac takes it upon himself to keep Jonathan’s identity a secret. Afraid that the truth might upset his party plans (and embolden Mavis to leave the hotel confines), Drac convinces Jonathan to pose as a Frankenstein cousin, related to the original owner of Frank’s left arm. But Drac can’t keep his darling daughter from falling in love with the boy she thinks is a fellow monster.
As Mavis deals with this duping—and yes, she finds out about it, as she must—the movie spins into a manic series of pratfalls and band rehearsals, games with flying tables and narrow escapes from the hotel chef, Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), who wants to cook Jonathan in a pot. When the monsters finally leave the hotel in pursuit of a runaway Mavis, they’re shocked to find something like an outdoors Comic Con, with humans in monster costumes and makeup, all quite in love with the very idea of misfits and monstrosities. The boys gain this knowledge apart from Mavis, who’s off-screen for this chapter in her life.
The predictable romance is punctuated by the boy bonding between Jonathan and Drac, which is to say, the animated version of That’s My Boy, minus Vanilla Ice. It wasn’t much fun the first time. Here it’s mechanical, as the guys discover their better selves in their relationships with Mavis, relationships that are at least somewhat different. That difference is minimized as Mavis ends up playing the adult to each, the special someone who helps them see their own mistakes and inspires them to do better. This hardly explains the film’s appeal or its success. It is, however, an awfully familiar formula.