Going to bat
Oh, joy—just what the cineplexes of America needed: another empty-calorie animated feature that might even lead to (shudder!) a series of sequels, vying with Ice Age and Madagascar for the coveted title of Worst Cartoon Franchise Ever. Hotel Transylvania isn’t quite that bad, but the potential is there. It has the same lack of any real story or characters, the same oversupply of star voices picking up a few bucks in the recording studio where they don’t have to worry about wardrobe or makeup, the same parade of lame gags padding what might have been a passable seven-minute cartoon out to an hour-and-a-half. The best you can say is that it’s harmless, and that during production it held down the unemployment rate for The Animation Guild Local 839.
The proprietor of Hotel Transylvania is—who else?—Dracula (voice by Adam Sandler). He established the place as a retreat for harried monsters where they can relax, away from murderous humans with their torches and pitchforks. It’s also a shelter for Drac’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), whom the overprotective count clings to ever since the demise of his wife at the hands of just such a rampaging lynch mob. To the hotel every year for Mavis’ birthday flock Frankenstein (Kevin James), his bride Eunice (Fran Drescher), werewolves Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (Molly Shannon), H.G. Wells’ invisible man Griffin (David Spade) and a legion of mummies, skeletons, bigfoots and other creatures with Catskill-Mountains-resort-patron names to add to the irresistible hilarity.
This year is different—Mavis is turning 118 (18 plus a hundred, get it? Ha ha), and Drac has promised she can go out to see the world outside their castle walls. But he cheats—he has the hotel staff masquerade as marauding humans in a fake village, all to scare Mavis back to Daddy, where she promises she’ll never leave again.
But you know how it is with the best-laid plans. While the drawbridge is down a real human wanders in. It’s a wide-eyed doofus named Jonathan (Andy Samberg), on a hiking tour of Eastern Europe with his beloved backpack, and when his eyes meet Mavis’, it’s love at first bat.
More interesting than this nonplot and these 2-D characters viewed through 3-D glasses is the challenge of deducing how they all came about, for which we can look to the movie’s writing credits: “Screenplay by Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel; story by Todd Durham and Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman.”
Remembering that by union rule, “&” indicates a collaboration between writers while “and” denotes independent work, here’s a possible scenario:
Todd Durham, who has no other credits on the IMDb and evidently no movie experience whatsoever, came up with an idea for an animated feature. Maybe he just came up with a cool title: Hotel Transylvania. Whatever he had to start with, he took it to someone he knows in the movie business—“executive producer” Sandler, perhaps, who is well-known for giving opportunities to newcomers. From there the story wound up in the hands of Dan and Kevin Hageman, whose only experience to date has been writing a bunch of Lego toy commercials masquerading as a half-hour TV series called Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu. The Hagemans embellished whatever they inherited from Durham until the story as it appears was more or less in place.
From there it went to Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel, one after the other rather than as a team.
Hotel Transylvania, while undistinguished, is harmless. The worst thing about it is that there may be sequels—but even that won’t be the end of the world. At least it’ll keep those animators employed and give Sandler and his friends something to do between gigs. It’s like a box of Jujubes or gummy bears: OK to munch on, if you must, but the gang at Pixar Animation Studios may be whipping up another serving of filet mignon, so don’t spoil your appetite.