SEPTEMBER 25, 2015
I shrugged off the original Hotel Transylvania, finding most of the humor to be beneath me (lots of fart jokes) and the narrative not taking advantage of the setting and its characters (as the title suggests, a hotel in Transylvania, owned and frequented by monsters). Knowing it was for kids I didn't care much, though the same season offered the superior Paranorman and Frankenweenie, proving that there was a way to make a solid film for kids that adults could enjoy, so over time I just kind of forgot about it. So when I say that I saw Hotel Transylvania 2 on opening night, I want to stress that it wasn't out of undying excitement for it - merely a matter of scheduling, as my Saturday was busy and I was on baby duty Sunday night - and there was no way I'd go see a kid's movie during the day. So an 8:45 Friday night option made the most sense, as it would likely be kind of empty save for the other curious adults*, right?
Alas. I barely even got a seat, and sure enough it was pretty packed with noisy kids up way later than I ever got to stay up on a Friday when I was their age (let alone go to the movies). Now that I'm a dad I've gotten less intolerant of the little brats talking during the movie, though I still can't condone seat-kicking. Thankfully, a few seats to my right remained empty (I know they were sold due to the seat-picking screen, so I hope they were some kids buying for this and going to see Green Inferno) and I was able to mostly focus on the film - which I am happy to say is a big improvement on the original. I know it's hip to hate on Adam Sandler these days, but I credit him and frequent collaborator Allen Covert for the increase in quality - it's the same director, same co-writer (Robert Smigel, an SNL vet who otherwise has never written a film with Sandler, or at least credited as such), etc - so who else can we thank for getting it right this time, since Sandler didn't get writing credit on the first and Covert only supplied a couple voices?
For starters, they give the other monsters more to do. The plot concerns Dracula's grandson, who is the spawn of his vampire daughter (Selena Gomez) and her human husband Johnny (Andy Samberg, surprisingly given almost no funny lines - though his dad is Nick Offerman so that more than makes up for it) and thus no one knows if he'll be human or a vampire. Dracula, obviously, wants him to be a vampire, and thus him and his pals (Wolfman, "Frankenstein" (grr), Mummy, Invisible Man, a green blob thing) go out on an adventure to try to bring out his monster side. So the others get a chance to do something on their own - Frankenstein will show him how to scare people, Mummy will show him how to inflict curses, etc. They all go horribly wrong, of course, but at least they are actually embracing what these characters are this time instead of just using them for fart gags.
They also take some shots at modern day "Everyone's a winner!" hand-holding, when Dracula takes the tyke to the camp where he learned the ropes of being a vampire - flying, catching rats, etc. There he is horrified to see that the little vampire children no longer hunt rats but merely pick them up off a T-ball post, and learn to "fly" by jumping off a 2 foot high ledge onto a safety net (with a harness), instead of diving off the 1000 foot high rickety tower as he did. Hell they could have used this as the focus for the entire movie and made the message "Stop babying your kids" instead of "It's OK if you're _____ (gay, weird, a vampire, whatever you want to plug in) because your family will love you anyway", but I appreciated the detour. There are also some good background gags for adults, something that I don't recall being in the original (favorite: an ad for a tour that will take you to all the best mythical locales: The Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, and Detroit). There's even a Count Chocula reference!
And as a new dad (SORRY) I got a kick out of the earlier stuff, before the kid gets older (he's 5 for most of the movie, but we track him from birth to his first words and all that). Baby-proofing the castle was particularly fun, with one of those impossible baby gates being placed in front of what seems like a bottomless pit - it's not exactly genius comedy, but again - it was using the idea that these things are in fact monsters for more than just an inventive set design and color scheme. It even has a villain of sorts, a demon named Bela who terrorizes the kid and Drac's daughter Mavis during the finale, with all the monsters (and Johnny's human relatives) banding together to fight them off. It's not exactly scary, and Bela should have been introduced earlier, but it's still more in line with the finale I'd want from a movie about monsters than a rom-com-y race to the airport like the original.
Oh, and they toned down the fart/poop/etc jokes. There are a couple, and the kids ate up one of the demons being hit in the groin, but I go in expecting that sort of shit and I don't really care. It's not the focus - that's what's important, and while his other movies of late leave much to be desired I must laud Sandler for giving a little something for everyone this time around while also diving head first into the concept this time. Indeed, my biggest complaint about the original was that it seemed like a long set up for something better later, and here we are! I can't forgive them for not bringing back the weird sponge thing from the first movie though; they should have made him a primary character.
Don't get me wrong, if you downright HATED the first there's little here to change your mind, but if you're like me, who thought the first movie was infinitely better on paper than in execution, you will probably agree they got a lot closer to getting it right this time, and if you're a parent taking your kids to see it, I think you'll find yourself enjoying it to a degree. I mean I was by myself and really only going to get a new review up, and I was still laughing fairly frequently and not at all embarrassed to be there. When Will is old enough in a couple years, I won't dread him watching this one.
What say you?
*Even though it was almost entirely kids and their parents, my assigned seat was between a couple of college kids and another adult (she looked a few years younger than me) who was also by herself - and believe me if I was single I definitely would have chatted up the like-minded woman who would go to a movie by herself on a Friday night just to enjoy some monster jokes. But anyway - I like that us "old people" all had the same idea, to sit near the front and hope for the best. You know how they offer "Mommy & Me" screenings? They should do the opposite for kids' movies, have special adults only ones for us weirdos.