It's more than 15 years since Pixar set off the CGI-animation-feature boom. But much of the California co's inventive DNA has devolved, with imitators' weak scripts, into formula: cute/smart-ass talking animals (or talking cars, in Pixar's own cash-grabber) or invading aliens or monsters. Sony's Hotel Transylvania could be called Monsters Inn—as in the Pixar film (now being spun into a sequel), monsters aren't actually scary, inhabit a world of their own, and are frightened of humans.
So, in this flick's first of two clever touches, Dracula's (voiced by Adam Sandler) set up a hotel where his night-fright friends can rest in peace. It's been “Human-Free Since 1898,” until a human backpacker shows up … on the Count-rol freak's daughter's 118th birthday. Trouble is, the obviously meant-to-be-together twosome's frightfully uninteresting. Jonathan (Andy Samberg) is a dull dope while Mavis (Selena Gomez) is the blandest stereotype of a teen girl unimaginativable. There's love at first sight; lines like “go make your own paradise”; sunlight reflected in big manga eyes. That's all terrifyingly trite, folks.
From the spooked start, the comic-rhythm dial's set to bulldozer. Director Tartakovsky refuses to let silence settle between moments or play with pauses before punchlines. Instead, Hotel Transylvania whizzes through the superficially amusing conceit of every single movie-monster staying in a resort together without actually taking much time to craft cunning comedy. Best, by far, is were-dad Wayne (Steve Buscemi), basically a suit-and-tie Wolfy Loman, harried and worn-down by his baying were-brood.
This project, in development for six years, still ends up seeming like a sugar-rushed Count Chocula-meets-Fawlty-Towers idea. The manic-ness continues; the token, jive-talkin' African-American character appears; some vocoded rap-and-pop pap's plopped down to pander to the Bieber-fan demographic; the best animation in the whole movie is of roof shingles. At last, near the end, comes the second deft touch—a “Monster Festival” in which Drac and his buddies are happily helped out by their film-fans, who welcome their scares as comfortably predictable horror-acting. Now, if only we could be welcomed into a Hotel Transylvania that isn't so predictable and comedy-straining.