“What? Now there’s no sheep in the road.”
After the abysmal failure of That’s My Boy, seeing Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg highlight another film’s marquee this year didn’t instill confidence. Cartoon or not, the pairing still left a sour taste in my mouth that the addition of their larger-than-life comedic buddies Kevin James, David Spade, and Molly Shannon did nothing to alleviate. Only the names behind the scenes gave me a sliver of hope that Hotel Transylvania could end up a fun hybrid of writers Robert Smigel (“SNL’s” TV Funhouse), Peter Baynham (Arthur Christmas), and director Genndy Tartakovsky‘s (“Dexter’s Laboratory”) sensibilities. Thankfully, these creative minds were up to the task of reining in the voice cast to bring a rather inventively on its head take on the monster genre for children that’s much more Saturday morning cartoon than “Saturday Night Live” overkill.
Existing in a world where monsters are very much real, Count Dracula (Sandler) has built a safe haven for their kind to vacation peacefully away from the horrible mob mentality of humans. A gorgeous hotel set back on an island cliff high in the sky, the long path through a haunted forest and zombie-filled graveyard is scary enough to make sure no non-supernatural beast attempts the journey. Designed in part to keep his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) protected against persecution for being a vampire, the sanctuary was also a testament to the memory of his deceased wife. With flashback nightmares of angry townsfolk holding pitchforks and torches creeping up on Dracula, his reputation for keeping the hotel segregated from the outside world was of the utmost importance. His clientele counted on it since the risk human visitors’ held was too dangerous.
But on Mavis’s 118th birthday, one brave soul finds his way through. The day finally allowing this young teen to venture into the real world and discover whether the danger was too great sees it arriving uninvited on her doorstep. Jonathan (Samberg) and his gigantic backpack just happened to be passing through Transylvania when he heard about the haunted castle. Being the adventurous type, he absent-mindedly made his way through to find the hustle and bustle of check-in day for the big soiree. Ever the obsessive-compulsive control freak, it’s no surprise Dracula sees him enter the revolving doors first before rushing to shield him from the others’ view. Unsure what to do next, the vampire concocts an elaborate lie stating the boy is Frankenstein’s (James) sixth cousin hired to help party plan.
What ensues are a bunch of culture clashes between old school and present day interpretations of music and fun while race relations concerning monsters and humans attempt to reconcile a century of struggle through the ‘zing’ bonding Jonathan and Mavis together. Dracula is at the middle of the craziness as he tries to keep the kids separated and somehow send Jonathan home before his secret is discovered. The other monsters quickly warm to the boy’s contemporary knowledge and attitude, however, making the hotel manager more scatterbrained as to his next move. Softening as a result of the boy’s charms and kind-hearted feelings towards Mavis too, it becomes only a matter of time before Dracula’s lies are revealed. The fact a human has infiltrated his walls can’t compare to the unforgivable deceit of keeping his daughter away from civilization.
The filmmakers make sure to focus on this bridging of differences and finding equality in a world much more progressive than the one the vampire knew a century ago. True love becomes key to understanding tolerance towards others as the concept of children becoming adults shines through to teach parents the lesson of toning down their default setting of over-bearing. We’ll discover the truth to Dracula’s wife’s death, the newfound love and adoration today’s youth has in everything Halloween, and the power of happiness above all else. A single father doing his best to protect his most precious possession, the universal traits inherent in such a situation brilliantly transcend the monster movie façade to make the concept accessible for young and old alike.
There’s also a more subversive humor at play than I had expected. The creatures of the night find themselves living between the reality of what they are and the fantasy constructed around their mythologies. Wayne the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi) has been beaten and broken by life and his litter of wolf babies unceasingly running around destroying things; Frankenstein and his wife Eunice (Fran Drescher) utilize their collage of body parts as a way to travel economically; and Murray the Boogyman’s (Cee-Lo Green) sand trails become the bane of Dracula’s witch maids’ existence. Add in shrunken head doorhangers to yell “Do not disturb” as people walk by (sassily voiced by Luenell), chef Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz) and his keenly smelling human detector rat, and countless other beasts playing off their stereotypes for laughs and the fun never stops.
Besides colorful characters and out-of-left-field gags—I still can’t get a gleeful sponge soaking up one of the Wolfman’s cubs’ urine from my mind—Hotel Transylvania works because of the actors who gave me the most trepidation. Sandler is perfect as Dracula, fudging through the iconic accent like Mike Myers does Scottish in Shrek and giving all he’s got to be funny, compassionate, and scary when necessary. Pair him with the West Coast cadence of Samberg’s Jonathan and you’ve got your polar opposite odd couple able to keep the laughs steady and large. And while there may be a headache-inducing auto-tuned medley for every cool 3D-approved action sequence of flying tables, the heart of young love and friendship between disparate cultures never stops making the film a sweetly inspired holiday romp for the whole family.
 Dracula (Adam Sandler) in HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, an animated comedy from Sony Pictures Animation. PHOTO BY: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation © 2012 Sony Pictures Animation, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
 Clockwise: Frank (Kevin James), Dracula (Adam Sandler), Griffin The Invisible Man (David Spade), Wayne (Steve Buccemi), Wanda (Molly Shannon) and Murray the Mummy (Cee-Lo Green), in HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, an animated comedy from Sony Pictures Animation. PHOTO BY: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation © 2012 Sony Pictures Animation, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
 Jonathan (Andy Samberg), disguised as a monster, starts to realize everyone around him is not in costume after all in HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, an animated comedy from Sony Pictures Animation. PHOTO BY: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation © 2012 Sony Pictures Animation, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.