Cinema Dispatch: Hotel Transylvania 2

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Hotel Transylvania 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures

Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

Does anyone else remember just how amazing it was that the first movie was in fact as good as it was?  The movie had been in production since 2006 and had five directors attached to it before finally settling on Genndy Tartakovsky who by all means is an accomplished animator but had never directed a feature film.  Not only that, but Adam Sandler was (and continues to be) a joke for a lot of people and his movie in the last decade or so have been absolutely abysmal.  Despite all that, Hotel Transylvania was not only good but one of the best animated films in a long time.  Now it’s time for Sony to start franchising this sucker with a sequel, but they seem to be doing it the right way by not only getting back the original director but the same writers as well.  Will this somehow manage to be one of the few animated sequels to be just as good if not better than the original, or will they throw out everything that was great about the first film just to milk a couple more dollars out of this series?  Let’s find out!!

After the events of the first movie, Mavis and Jonathan (Selena Gomez and Andy Samberg) start dating and eventually get married in the titular hotel.  Their whirlwind love affair eventually leads to her getting pregnant and giving birth to their son Dennis whom Dracula (Adam Sandler) starts to obsess over because now he has a new outlet for the overprotective behavior he struggled to overcome in the last film.  Unfortunately, like in the first movie, there comes a point where his paternal usefulness may be coming to an end with Mavis thinking that it may be too dangerous for them to stay at the hotel since young Dennis has yet to show any signs of being anything other than human, and in the Lore of this universe if he doesn’t show any signs by his fifth birthday (which is rapidly approaching), he’ll be a human forever.  Dracula, being the crafty bastard that is, enlists Jonathan’s help (who wants to stay at the hotel) to keep Mavis distracted while he and his friends try to force the vampirism into his grandson by taking him on the night of professional scaring.  I wouldn’t think that biology could be affected by cultural immersion but whatever.  So Jonathan and Mavis are off to visit his family in California for some marital R&R (and to see if the place would be a good fit for their family), while the old school monsters are trying their best to not only get this kid to grow his fangs but to recapture a bit of their youthful exuberance as they revisit their familiar haunts from when they were the scourge of humanity which may be a bit more difficult than they were expecting now the humans have learned about monsters and are (tentatively) accepting them.

Some seem to be adjusting better than others.

Some seem to be adjusting better than others.

For those of you waiting on bated breath, the answer is no.  This movie is not as good as Hotel Transylvania.  The thing you have to understand though is that for me Hotel Transylvania is one of the best animated movies of all time.  I absolutely adore it and I’ve seen it a stupid amount of times,  so right off the bat it was basically a given that I wasn’t going to like this movie as much as the first one.  I walked into the movie terrified that I was gonna hate it based on what I saw in the trailers which wasn’t all that promising.  Not only is it a sequel to a well beloved animated movie (which is a sketchy proposition at best), but moving the focus from the relationship between a parent and there now grown child to a story with a little kid in it felt like they had forgotten what made the first film’s story so memorable and that they were simply pandering to its target audience instead of crafting something unique.  While the movie did manage to far exceed my expectations, I can’t say that those issues aren’t present and accounted for which is a shame but to be expected.  Surprisingly, the one aspect I thought was going to sink this movie (little Dennis being at the forefront of the film’s marketing) actually manages to work because it doesn’t subsume everything else going on.  The movie is still mostly about Dracula and his relationship with his daughter while the introduction of this kid is just a way for things to get more complicated and nuanced between them what with her having a family that she needs to think about on top of what it is she wants for herself.  Hell the movie even comes around to the fact that the kid is mostly used as a prop by the other characters to get what they want (leading to him getting lost in the shuffle) which was the best way to handle this kind of character.  Too often we get young children cynically implanted into already established properties to be used as a way to reinvigorate the property without much consideration into how they are used or why they should be there.  By having the big emotional flare up be about the adults using him to support their points of view is not only true to real life family conflicts, but came across to me like an acknowledgement from the film makers as to how these characters are usually handled when added to a franchise.

“Well I think he’ll be a great role model to kids!”     “He can still be that if we give him vampire powers!”     “But that’s just going to make him less relatable!!”     “Who cares if he’s relatable!?  If they want someone they can relate to, then they’d talk to someone instead of watching a movie!!”

“Well I think he’ll be a great role model to kids!”     “He can still be that if we give him vampire powers!”     “But that’s just going to make him less relatable!!”     “Who cares if he’s relatable!?  If they want someone they can relate to, then they’d talk to someone instead of watching a movie!!”

Unfortunately, that’s the only sequel pitfall they managed to dodge.  Because this has to continue where the last one left off, they did indeed have to bring humans into the story.  For me the third act of Hotel Transylvania was weak point because the inclusion of humans into this world outside of Jonathan never really gelled well in that first movie and it’s the same here only throughout the film instead of just at the end. I think it’s a sort of uncanny valley thing where they’re supposed to be humans but they act like caricatures compared to the more nuanced performances from Dracula, Mavis, and the other monsters that have significant roles.   Watching them try to act as humans just comes off as odd and they are about as believable as the zombies were at playing human in the last film.  Also, human in this movie basically means befuddled white people and that’s about it.  Now the movie IS going for a new theme about gentrification, poor behavior from supposed allies, and casual racism (with a bit of poking fun at modern parenting techniques) so I guess the character they’ve drawn of humanity kind of goes along with all that but the way humans are portrayed is too broad to work for characters who should have some dramatic weight (Jonathan’s parents) and too obvious to be all that funny (the couple who are mortified for asking Dracula where they can find a ‘bite’ to eat).

Well what the hell were you expecting when you went to HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA!?  Dumbasses.

Well what the hell were you expecting when you went to HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA!?  Dumbasses.

Along with those problems, the jokes themselves are as you’d expect.  They’re not as funny and a lot of the humor is more irreverent to the point that they even have some Seth MacFarlane style cutaway gags.  Blech.  While the last movie had its moments that seemed to exist for no other purpose than for the animators and the voice actors to do a bit of riffing (Jonathan’s Dracula impression at the end of the second act springs to mind), this one kicks it up to eleven and feels more like they were struggling to fill that 90 minutes.  There’s a scene where Dracula is trying to get Dennis to turn into a bat and it turns into a dance scene for absolutely no reason except that the animation for Dracula dancing was a great sight gag in the last movie.

“You think THAT’S bad!?  Remember that one time we all came down with Disco Fever!?”

“You think THAT’S bad!?  Remember that one time we all came down with Disco Fever!?”

Another issue (very common in sequels) is that a lot of the elements that worked so well in the first movie got pushed to the side or diminished somewhat here.  Fran Drescher as The Bride of Frankenstein wasn’t a huge character in the last one, but in this she’s basically a non-entity which is a shame because I really did like her character design and the acting she did previously.  Similarly, Chris Parnell’s character of The Fly which was a very memorable side character in the last movie has only one brief scene despite the fact that he was hysterical in the last film.  This wouldn’t be so bad if the smaller parts that replaced them were just as good, but aside from someone who shows up towards the end (who we’ll get back to soon enough) the new people filling out the margins just don’t stack up.  Jonathan’s family isn’t all that funny (as are all the humans in this), the camp counselor is a one note joke, Blobby never feels like a real member of Dracula’s entourage despite doing a huge solid for him, and the Phantom of the Opera guy over stays his welcome (just to name a few of the new characters).  The last guy in particular is REALLY funny at first, but the gag goes on just a bit too long.  Of all the characters to get diminished though, I think Jonathan gets it the worst.  In the last movie he was an interesting presence to this monsters only society, but now he doesn’t really have much of a purpose because what he represents is now commonplace since the humans have started to integrate with the monsters.  The fact that he’s a human no longer makes him special, so what does he have to bring to the table now?  Not much unfortunately.

“Wanna help me up babe?”     “Not particularly…”

“Wanna help me up babe?”     “Not particularly…”

Fortunately, that’s about the extent of what doesn’t work here, so let’s get to what does.  While the jokes may have gotten a bit stale, Genndy Tartakovsky’s animation style certainly hasn’t which still manages to stand out from all the other animated features out there.  Everything is vibrant and colorful when needed, and the physical movements of the characters are still hilariously exaggerated.  Even when the movie indulges itself with random asides (the aforementioned dance sequence or Frankenstein trying to fit in Dracula’s clothes), the animation is always top notch and manages to keep your interest even when the jokes do not.  It also has a MUCH stronger third act than the last film which brings in some genuine danger to the situation as well as some bad ass monster mashing!  You know how the last Twilight movie got some credit for its vampire fight actually being competent and kind of fun?  Well this is a lot like that, only the rest of the movie is awesome on its own.  I really wasn’t expecting Dracula to throw down or Frankenstein to bust some heads but sure enough the movie opens a big ol’ can of WHOOP ASS and it’s just as much fun as it is unexpected.  On top of that, the third act does introduce Dracula’s father Vlad who is voiced by the true comedy lord and savior Mel Brooks.  THERE’S A MOVIE IN 2015 WITH MEL BROOKS IN IT!!  MY JOY CANNOT BE CONTAINED!!!  Of course I wish he was in the movie more (his character is alluded to throughout the whole film) but his brief appearance here is the best new edition to this entire movie.

Shine on you magnificent bastard!  Shine on!!

Shine on you magnificent bastard!  Shine on!!

Is there anything else worth pointing out?  Well I really didn’t like Murray’s new voice (Keegan-Michael Key replaces Cee Lo Green) though his material is still pretty strong overall, but that’s really getting into nitpicks.  The mummy was the least prominent member of the group in the last movie, so I like him having more to do here even if we have to hear someone else do the voice.  I think a lot of my complains about this movie do go back to how much I liked the first one and comparing this one to it (characters from the first one pushed to the background, characterization issues, etc) but then again me being such a huge fan is also partly responsible for me being so receptive to this sequel the way that I was.  I like this world and all these characters, and while this is not the perfect sequel or even the equal of the original, it’s still an absolute blast to watch and I hope they do make a third one at some point.  That’s probably a given because Sony Animations doesn’t have a lot of other franchises to milk, (Smurfs is probably going to get a couple more sequels while Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs might get one more before packing it in) but what seems less likely is getting this creative team back.  The two names you will need to look out for if they make a third one are Genndy Tartakovsky as the director (obviously) and Robert Smigel as the writer.  That guy wrote both these movies as well as the only tolerable Adam Sandler movie made in the last decade (You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) so I hope that Sony is smart enough to keep him close by for any future installments.  Oh, and he’s also the guy behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog so bonus points for that!  As for this one, I absolutely recommend it as long as you go in knowing it’s not quite the same as the first one.  Just get that out of the way first so that you can just enjoy what it is rather than compare it to what it’s not.

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If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Hotel Transylvania 2 (Blu-ray + DVD)

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