*1/2 (out of four)
Jason Segel performed a Dracula musical in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and it was funny. One of many moments in “Hotel Transylvania” that aren’t funny: An animated Dracula voiced by Adam Sandler singing to his baby daughter, “Let me wipe all your poop away.”
Combining the age-old family movie concept of a kid wanting to see the world with the recent onslaught of stories about the softer side of villains (“Megamind,” “Despicable Me”), “Hotel Transylvania” is undead on arrival. Fearing ruthless humans and their radical anti-monster agenda, Dracula launches Hotel Transylvania in 1895 as a vacation destination for Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, Bigfoot and countless other classic demons.
It's almost like—SPOILER ALERT—if the last 20 minutes of “The Cabin in the Woods” became a kids' movie, and the deadly creatures became harmless goofballs who play bingo and laugh at fart jokes.
In the new film’s present day, Dracula labors to keep his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), who’s minimally rebellious for a 118-year-old, inside the hotel. The overprotective dad's efforts to disguise a backpacking human (Andy Samberg) as a monster show just how far he's willing to go to distance the natural world from the living nightmares he calls friends.
The concept of ostracized creatures seeking respite has promise. Recently “ParaNorman” got a lot of funny, exciting mileage from showing how both people and monsters can feel unfairly judged by the way they look. “Hotel Transylvania,” however, relies on weak humor like Dracula saying “I want to kiss your tush!” (instead of “suck your blood”) and Mavis loving “scream cheese,” which is, of course, cream cheese that screams. Add ridiculously outdated musical references (Dave Matthews Band? Slipknot?) and, typical to all Sandler movies, forced sentimentality and it's extremely difficult to believe veteran “Saturday Night Live” writer Robert Smigel had any input on the script.
At least something like “Puss in Boots” compensates for its hand-me-down story with beautiful animation and a few rousing action sequences. The idea-starved “Transylvania” looks fine and flounders its way to overstating current levels of tolerance. It also once again proves that animated films need to cut it with the musical numbers. I mean, who doesn’t love rapping Dracula?
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