The sequel to Sony’s 2012 Halloween-themed animation Hotel Transylvania knows exactly who it’s aiming for. Cutesy, big-eyed character designs, low-hanging slapstick comedy and a largely inconsequential plot ensure this is a film for kids to enjoy and parents to grin and bear. There are some interesting things happening with the animation and, mercifully, one or two lines that stir up an adult laugh, but going in expecting more than something bright and fluffy for under 10s to stare up at for 89 minutes would be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Following his vampire daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) falling in love with Jonathan (an Andy Samberg-voiced human staying at his hotel for monsters), Adam Sandler’s Count Dracula has come to terms with his daughter’s choice of husband and has become a doting (if overbearing) father in law. But when he becomes a grandfather, his old fears that his daughter will leave for a more human life begin to creep back in. Dracula sets about trying to ensure his grandchild grows up a vampire so she’ll have no choice but to stay.
While the plot is mostly just in service to quick gags and colourful characters, there are some family-focused themes being explored that give a bit of heart and substance to an otherwise hollow story. Sure, they are a bit simplistic and familiar for any discerning adult, but Hotel Transylvania 2‘s musings on tolerance and growing up are more than enough meat for the younger crowd to chew on as they fixate on all the manic goofiness. The film is pretty loose with its structure, so the stakes are consequently quite low. The result is that these more relatable, human moments become much more important and form the spine of the story, which makes the absence of a more emotionally orientated climax a little disappointing. There was opportunity here not just to reward more mature viewers for sticking it out, but also to make it something a little bit more memorable for the kids watching. Sadly, this was not to be, and Hotel Transylvania 2 is left to blend in with the many other forgettable animated features the kids have and will digest this year.
What does set Hotel Transylvania movies apart is the interesting animation style, which I’m really not sure how I feel about. Director Genndy Tartakovsky’s heavy-lined style and uncanny character designs, which worked so well back in his Cartoon Network days, have made a fascinating transition into the 3D animated realm. His characters continue to lean invasively into frame, and stand in uncomfortable and illogical positions across the scene. This made a lot of sense in the flatter 2D animation of his past, but is a little distracting on a more defined set. But as much as it can feel a little weird, it makes every frame of the film look gorgeously composed in isolation. The storytelling is almost more like a comic book, with a series of picturesque shots making a beat then changing, than a fluid piece of animation. Ultimately, I have to commend Tartakovsky sticking to his style and giving the film some visual personality (especially in the big action-packed climax), but damned if it didn’t give me a headache snapping between goofy close-ups as the characters exchanged banter.
More the shame given how grating said banter and characters are, Sandler’s Dracula in particular is a chore to spend time with (a problem given he’s, you know, the star of the film). His overly enthusiastic zaniness is incredibly grating, and any development he does have feels forced and inauthentic in the wake of how much he panders to an uncaring demographic. With all the incredible characters and legitimately funny comedy we have been spoiled with in family entertainment over the years, we’re past the point where a movie gets a pass because it’s aimed at kids. Some other characters do fare a little better, such as Gomez’s Mavis, who acts as the film’s voice of reason as well, if not also its heart, and Samberg’s Jonathan, who’s also a little dim and overly jolly, but in a way that’s far less obnoxious than Sandler’s lead. But even they only standout because of just how uninteresting the extended cast surrounding them is; in almost any other film you’d forget them in a heartbeat.
When a film that goes for less than 90 minutes still seems to drag on excessively, you know you have a problem. Hotel Transylvania 2‘s crime isn’t that it necessarily gets anything wrong, but that it plays it so safe there isn’t really much room to get anything right either. This is a film that knows how to make its money, and doesn’t mind becoming something bland and uninteresting as long as it does so. The only really interesting thing about Hotel Transylvania 2 is its sometimes-successful art style, beyond that, it’s hard to recommend for anyone who doesn’t desperately need an hour-and-a-half distraction for some hyperactive kids.