That "Adam Sandler as Dracula" movie isn't as horrendous as you feared

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If you're like most people, you probably hear the words "Adam Sandler plays Dracula," and your brain just shuts down. It's a protective reflex. Otherwise, the Madness would seep in through your visual cortex, and soon your brain would be utterly twisted into gooey knots, like Pizza Hut breadsticks. You would probably wind up with one-day amnesia, like Drew Barrymore in that other Adam Sandler movie.

The good news is, Hotel Transylvania is not nearly as bad as you'd expect, from Sandler's involvement. Directed by Genndy (Samurai Jack) Tartakovsky, it's a pretty cute, slapsticky movie that has a personality of its own, separate from Sandler's usual one-note thing. It's not a masterpiece, by any means, but it's a piece of harmless fun with a few genuinely funny moments. And there's a message buried in there about ghettoization and why you shouldn't be overprotective towards your kids, yadda yadda.

Here's the thing — let's assume you're going to need to drag your kids out to a movie theater this weekend, as a way of killing a couple of hours. And I don't honestly know what else there is out there. There's the 3D reissue of Finding Nemo, I guess. It's possible your local theater still has Paranorman — and if you haven't seen that yet, it's a way better movie than Hotel Transylvania. Or you could take your kids to How to Survive a Plague and educate them about the AIDS crisis, that could be fun right? But otherwise, it's probably going to be Hotel Transylvania — and luckily, this is a fairly decent film that won't make you want to set fire to the theater.


Spoilers below...

In Hotel Transylvania, vampires apparently reproduce the same as ordinary people — Dracula had a wife 100-odd years ago, and they had a daughter named Mavis (Selena Gomez) before something bad happened to Mrs. Dracula. Now, Dracula hates and fears humans, and will do anything to keep Mavis from having contact with humanity. So he builds a huge estate called Hotel Transylvania, which only monsters know about and which is protected from human incursion by a bunch of scary shit. Mavis really wants to go out and explore the world for herself, but Dracula keeps finding ways to keep her locked up.

And once a year, on Mavis' birthday, he invites all of the other monsters to come and stay there and party with him. (It's a hotel, but it's not clear if anybody stays there any other time of year.) The monsters enjoy their seclusion and human-free environment... until one day, on Mavis' 118th birthday, a backpacker named Johnny (Andy Samberg) stumbles on the hotel. Dracula can't kill Johnny because he doesn't kill any more, so instead he disguises Johnny as a monster — but then Johnny and Mavis fall in love, and Mavis doesn't realize she's in love with a human. Cue all the usual rom-com cliches, dressed up in monster clothing.

What Tartakovsky brings to the story is a decent amount of monster slapstick and ridiculous sight gags, milking the notion of all the Universal monsters (and various others) bopping around a big luxury hotel for all it's worth. Tartakovsky's monsters are also pretty expressive, both physically and in their facial expressions, which goes a long way towards making you forget that you're listening to Sandler and his pals, including Kevin James and Fran Drescher, put on silly voices. Oh, and there are Frankenstein fart jokes and things. And sassy shrunken heads on the doors, voiced by Luenell, instead of "do not disturb" signs.

And there are some pretty good messages buried in the midst of all the gags — in a nutshell, the monsters have hidden themselves away from a world that no longer fears them or hates them as it once did. And meanwhile, Dracula's over-protectiveness winds up backfiring, and only makes his daughter more curious about the outside world. And when she meets Johnny and sees sparks with him, it winds up opening her up to a whole new world. It's a similar theme to the "father/daughter" subplot in Gnomeo and Juliet, except that I liked it better in Gnomeo, where the daughter actually could take care of herself. (As much as any garden gnome can.)

Although there's also a message in the film that I didn't really like as much — we're sort of pounded, sledgehammer-style, with the notion that you only "zing" with one person in your life. This is treated as a great universal truth, which Mavis' mother leaves for her in a weird little book, with much fanfare. But Dracula and the other monsters also treat it as an absolute truth about the universe. The very first person you experience even the slightest infatuation with is the one, and is the person you are going to spend your entire life with, absolutely for certain. It's sort of weird, the extent the movie goes to, to drive home this notion — mostly because it papers over a big plot hole, but also because I think the film-makers think it's romantic. I'm not even talking about "love at first sight," which is a different sort of idea — the neurotic terror with which they keep shrieking, "You only 'zing' once in your life," as if failing to hook up with the first person you have a crush on will leave you alone until you die, is kind of weird. Not sure this is a message movies for kids ought to be sending, really.

In any case, apart from that one weird message, there's nothing terribly wrong with Hotel Transylvania. It's got some fun stuff in there, and I liked seeing Dracula and Mavis turn into cute bats. The idea of all the monsters hanging out at a hotel together is a fun one, and Sandler is at his most likable. Your kids will be diverted, and you won't be left contemplating trying to drown yourself in the king-size Slushee. So, you know, why not. Unless Paranorman is still playing in your theaters and you haven't seen that yet.