There’s really only one main reason to be interested in Hotel Transylvania 2: Like the first movie, it’s directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, the animator best known for Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars. And there are some utterly beautiful images in this film, in support of a dreadful story.
I think Hotel Transylvania 2 is much more beautiful than the first movie, in fact—having made a squillion dollars with the tale of Dracula’s luxury hotel for monsters and the human backpacker who turns up there, the studio seems to have loosened the purse strings and given Tartakovsky’s team of animators more resources this time around.
Or maybe I’m just having the Transylvanian version of Stockholm Syndrome. But I really think that Tartakovsky’s gift for stylized action, set against a beautiful painterly background, comes into its own in this second movie. Where the first Hotel Transylvania had some cool moments here and there, I felt like the second is much more visually interesting—in a way that these screencaps from the trailer don’t really convey, sadly.
Tartakovsky and his team of animators do really interesting things with light and shadow, capturing the mist over the hotel’s lake at night, and the texture of clouds against the full moon. And the spooky forests of Transylvania have a new shadowy richness this time around, which reminds me of the awesome backgrounds that we used to see on Samurai Jack. Also, the textures of bat fur, hair, gelatinous monster goop and other stuff feel a bit more fully realized, helping the characters to pop against these background paintings.
And the sense of motion in the foreground is even more frenetic this time, with the characters constantly breaking out into dance or action. And the frame is more packed with creatures and sight gags, too.
So it’s kind of sad that even as the level of visual artistry in the film reaches a new level, the actual storytelling sinks much, much lower.
This time around, the script is co-written by star Adam Sandler, along with Robert Smigel (who co-wrote the first movie with Alan Partridge writer Peter Baynham, who didn’t come back for a second helping, alas.) So it’s not terribly surprising that the script is a lot dumber, but also more callous and disrespectful towards the integrity of the characters.
In Transylvania 2, Dracula’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) marries the gormless backpacker Jonathan (Andy Samberg). And then we jump ahead, and they have a baby. Cue lots of humor about Mavis wanting to baby-proof the monster hotel, to Dracula’s dismay. And meanwhile, Dracula is worried that the baby will be human instead of a vampire, and then Mavis will take Dracula’s grandson to live with Johnny’s family in America. So Dracula is determined to bring out the vampire in his grandson, even if he risks killing the toddler in the process.
So there you have it—it’s a lot of child-endangerment humor. And I love child-endangerment humor: There’s something just marvelous about a baby crawling towards a cliff or almost being flattened by a safe. Everybody loves babies almost being flattened, it’s just intrinsically funny. But adults endangering small children is somehow less funny than children blundering into danger by themselves, and after a while the fact that nobody seems to think it’s bad to keep almost killing this infant starts to throw you out of the film.
And the humor in Transylvania 2 is appreciably less funny than it was in the first movie, which already was kind of dumb. You know that “Family Guy” thing where somebody says a random phrase, and then we cut away to a 30-second blip showing that phrase actually happening? Hotel Transylvania 2 does that constantly, to the point where it’s the main source of laffs. There are a number of lazy gags that get run into the ground, also.
The dumbing down of the film’s humor actually goes hand-in-claw with its new spin on the theme of monsters who hate and fear humans. This time around, the focus is on Johnny and Mavis as a “mixed marriage,” and whether people will be able to accept them and their half-human, half-vampire child. Plus the question of modernity, and whether old-school monsters like Dracula can adjust to social media and smart phones and the fact that what happens in one tiny corner of the world is instantly known everywhere, thanks to Youtube videos and stuff.
And it’s actually sort of interesting to see these characters grapple with modernity—Dracula has a smartphone but he can’t make the interface work because of his long vampire fingernails. The inability of the monster characters to make sense of the 21st century sort of mirrors how dumb this movie’s story is, when placed against the sophisticated animation.
The other big selling point in this sequel is the presence of Mel Brooks, playing Dracula’s father Vlad. Sadly, he’s barely in it, and when he finally turns up, it’s kind of a non-event.
In fact, this film has one of the biggest third-act problems I’ve ever seen. The movie just sort of... stops after the second act, and then a third act is manufactured out of nowhere, as if everybody suddenly realized they can’t just make a 60-minute movie and have it end on an anticlimax.
As usual with this sort of film, you’re not actually going to see Hotel Transylvania 2 under your own volition—you have small children, they need to be distracted for a couple hours, you need air conditioning and junk food, etc. If you do have to go see this movie for the sake of child appeasement, just bear in mind that it was directed by one of the 21st century masters of animation, and there are some really cool things to look at, if you can manage not to pay attention to anything the characters are saying or doing.