I’ve been waiting for the day that Genndy Tartakovsky got to direct his first feature film. You see, besides being an enormous film geek, I’m also really into cartoons. Genndy is responsible for one of the best modern animated series, SAMURAI JACK (not to mention the spectacular first incarnation of the Clone Wars in 2003). It’s outstanding. For the past 10 years, he’s been trying to get feature projects off the ground, most notably a sequel to Jim Henson’s THE DARK CRYSTAL, which would just rock balls! When I saw the trailer for this, I was mostly underwhelmed, so imagine my surprise when I saw Genndy’s named listed as the director at the end of the preview. Well, this has to be good now, right? Even though it looked mediocre, I was still hoping that this visionary animator had something up his sleeve here.
Adam Sandler voices Dracula. Yes. “The” Dracula. He is a single father who wants to protect his vampire daughter Mavis from the pillaging humans (who killed his wife). So he builds a hotel for monsters. A resort that creatures of all sorts (Frankenstein, Wolf Man, Invisible, Man, Gremlins, and many others) can just be themselves and not have to worry about humans trying to destroy them. On Mavis’ 118th birthday, Dracula throws a huge bash for her like he usually does, but his daughter wants something more. She want to explore the world, but her dad has told her what a terrible place it is, so she has become a shut-in. But when a human (about Mavis’ age) named Jonathan accidentally hikes his way to the hotel, Dracula’s world turns chaotic. You see, monsters are incredibly afraid of humans, so when Dracula fails to get rid of Jonathan (he thinks the monsters are cool), he disguises him as Frankenstein’s distant cousin. And of course, since the human is a drifter and has seen all different parts of the world, Mavis is naturally drawn to him, and a cute little relationship forms. But what’s going to happen when everyone finds out that Jonathan is human?
Like I said, the trailers looked mediocre at best, but I was pleasantly surprised by how inventive and funny the first 20 minutes were. This first act shows what Dracula does during his daily routine as he runs the hotel and deals with every kind of monster. There were some laugh-out loud moments for me here. Loved the bellboy zombies that destroy a car as they grab the luggage from it. I also liked a scene that had Dracula build a fake village (full of zombies dressed as humans), to show Mavis how evil and dangerous people really are. I even liked Sandler’s vampire voice. It works really well. And besides the humor, I found the father/daughter relationship rather touching, but that could be because I saw it with my daughter (whom I have a very close relationship with).
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to those first 20 minutes. As soon as the human arrives, it turns into a rather standard Nickelodeon cartoon, complete with cheap fart jokes, and crotch shots. The witty humor and movie references from the first act disappeared. It’s as if the guy who wrote the script died after 20 pages, and then the guys who were responsible for ED, EDD and EDDY took over. It’s never terrible, but it definitely loses the special quality that was evident in the beginning. I guess I just didn’t care for Jonathan. His surfer-like persona just felt so generic, and wasn’t funny. There were still some touching moments between Dracula and Mavis, as well as a nice scene when Jonathan shows Mavis her first sun rise. I also thought that the Wolf Man’s baby daughter was hysterical in her 2 brief scenes (especially when she’s tracking down the human).
I’m not sure what quite happened here. I definitely expected something much more from Genndy. But it’s almost like Sandler took over the production. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did because it looks like he called in his (mostly) unfunny friends to help do the voices (David Spade, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Andy Samberg, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz). The computer animation doesn’t bare Tartakovsky’s trademark animation. It looks just like your ordinary, non-pixar CG animation. However, it does look like Genndy got to use his style during the traditionally animated end credits. I did like looking at some of the creatures like Frankenstein, a deadpan rat, Dracula in bat form, and various others. The music score by Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh is quite good. Full of energy and memorable themes, it’s one of the film’s highlights. I liked Sandler’s song that he sings to his daughter in the beginning, but besides that, the songs in here are pretty bad. It’s that electronic-voiced pop that has invaded the airwaves during the past few years. It just doesn’t fit in with this monster-themed movie. Imagine THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS populated with Top 40 hits…. doesn’t work, does it? That’s probably the worst thing about the movie.
Now, this movie is just getting ripped apart by critics, and while I don’t fully recommend the movie, I will say that it’s not THAT bad. I have definitely seen worse. There are some fun, and amusing moments (mostly during the first half) to be found here. Sandler seems to be having a good time and it does have a nice moral to the story. I just wish that the movie didn’t often resort to typical “kiddie” humor. I think that Hollywood underestimates kids. They don’t have to throw in poop jokes in order to make them laugh or get them involved with the story. These are the types of movies that dumb kids down. They’re not horrible films, but I think they close the minds of kids. When being constantly exposed to this type of second-rate stuff, they begin to think that it’s good and end up being bored when they see something that’s “actually” good. Thank God I’ve raised my daughter by showing her film from all types of genres and eras. She did like the movie, but had some of the same issues that I had (she’s not a fan of bathroom humor). She liked the monsters and scary stuff in this, so I can’t wait to take her to see FRANKENWEENIE next week. I do think most kids will enjoy this, and parents should have an okay time, but it’s not as good as PARANORMAN, MONSTER HOUSE and a certain Tim Burton movie that opens next week. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG for some rude humor, action and scary images.
– Running time: 1hr 31min.