It’s not often that a father-daughter relationship is portrayed in movies, which makes the premise of “Hotel Transylvania,” in which Dracula (the voice of Adam Sandler, doing a perfect Transylvanian accent) raises his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) as a single dad, particularly refreshing and ultimately heartwarming. Dracula is portrayed as a sweet and well intentioned but overprotective helicopter dad. Example: when he is teaching his daughter Mavis how to turn herself into a bat and fly, she wears a pink helmet.
Dracula’s concerns about his daughter are not unfounded. After the untimely demise of his wife Martha, he has vowed that no harm will ever come to his daughter. He sequesters himself away in a gothic castle he had constructed as a safe haven for not only himself and his family, but all monsters who now seek refuge from the world of humans, who for centuries have taunted and in general mistreated and misunderstood the monsters. He calls the place Hotel Transylvania.
Every monster ever to grace a B-grade screen can be found at Hotel Transylvania, and they have all gathered there for Mavis’s 118 birthday extravaganza, including the Frankenstein’s monster (who goes by Frank, voiced by Kevin James), his nagging bride (the infamously and adorably annoying voice of Fran Drescher), and the Invisible Man (the voice of David Spade). Even one of my old favorites, the Blob, has a substantial non-speaking gelatinous role.
Mavis is all grown up, a reflective and curious young adult, and Dracula has given her his word that on her 118 birthday she may leave the castle to go explore the wider world. Inside, however, Dracula can’t bear the thought of losing his little girl, and so he concocts an elaborate scheme to convince her that the outside world is too dangerous and that humans intend only to destroy monsters.
Everything goes according to plan until a stray human backpacker named Johnathan (the voice of Andy Samberg) wanders into Dracula’s path. To hide Johnathan’s presence, Dracula passes him off as as “Johnny Stein,” a distant cousin to Frankenstein’s monster. What Dracula doesn’t expect is that all the monsters become taken with “Johnny” when he proves to be the life of the party, and even Mavis starts to fall for him.
In spite of its horror film roots, “Hotel Transylvania” is very tame and quite family friendly. One of the more amusing aspects of the film is Dracula’s description of the monsters’ self-imposed mandates to clean up their acts. It’s intended to amuse parents, especially fans of old horror movies who grew up watching Elvira Mistress of the Dark, as much as it is the kids. It’s an affectionate nod to those campy horror classics of days gone by. Dracula no longer drinks real blood but a blood substitute, Blood Beaters (“You can hardly taste the difference,” he says.) Monsters in this world no longer terrorize but are terrified of humans, having been terrorized themselves in the past. Parents will enjoy the monsters’ self-deprecating humor. The movie is full of clever lines and hilarious performances. In spite of some filler fluff near the climax, the movie is engaging and fun to watch.
Dracula has grown hopelessly out of touch with the outside world, and believes that Johnathan’s smart phone will read his thoughts and take his soul. Johnathan challenges Dracula’s antiquated notions, as every parent’s notions are challenged by the younger generation, and even goes so far as to suggest, in a humorous moment with social implications, that Dracula’s anti-human perspective is “racist.”
Dracula ultimately has to come into the twenty-first century and learn the hardest lesson of all for any parent: to let go.
Reel Mama’s recommendation: The movie can easily be enjoyed by six and up. The most intense scene is when the monsters pretend to be human, scaring Mavis, and a pitch fork spears the head of a zombie, but it’s made clear that the zombie is unaffected and feels no pain. Dracula has an angry face that might be scary for younger viewers, and there’s a little bit of mild rude humor.