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Review: “Hotel Transylvania 2” – Does New Blood Keep the Laughs Coming?

by on September 25, 2015

Hotel Transylvania 2Sony thrilled audiences so much with Hotel Transylvania in 2012 that they’re rolling out the blood red carpet again with its sequel just in time for the 2015 Halloween season.  The first movie asked the question of what would happen if a human fell in love with the sheltered vampire daughter of Dracula (answer: hilarity). Hotel Transylvania 2 delves into the situation of what kind of life the child of the human Jonathan and the vampire Mavis could lead. It’s a setup that’s not quite as straightforward and ripe for comedy as the first movie, and this new story muddies the water, splits focus, and avoids some of the more complicated issues even though it introduces bigger concepts.

In the world of Hotel Transylvania, a vampire child doesn’t get his fangs until about age five, and because Dennis has a human father and a vampire mother, things can go either way for him. Naturally, Dracula wants his grandson to be a vampire, but Mavis wonders if things will be better for him if he experiences a childhood like his worldly father. So Johnny takes Mavis to California to learn about the human world while Dracula volunteers to babysit Dennis so he can secretly take him on a trip in an attempt to bring out his inner monster. Not a bad concept, but it’s odd that the main characters spend a lot of time away from the title location. We know the hotel has been modernized by Johnny and humans are now welcome, but losing the hotel is like losing one of the central characters from the first movie. Instead of a Gothic setting of horrifyingly hilarious creatures, we get suburban California, Transylvanian woods, and a bizarre summer camp for vampire children. Understandably, they can’t repeat the jokes a human hiding among monsters like in the first one, but expanding the world this way isn’t exactly an even trade.

The idea of what it means to be a monster is brought up, but it doesn’t completely follow from the first movie’s concept of having monsters become celebrities to normal people. Dennis’ favorite monsters would fit in more on Sesame Street than Elm Street and thinks having vampire powers makes you a superhero, so it’s interesting to see him learn what a monster is, but it’s hard to sympathize with Dracula when he and his buddies are out scaring people and hunting animals in front of a small child. Who knew child endangerment comedy could only go so far?

Hotel Transylvania 2The characters are still fun, though, and many of them return along with their voice actors. Adam Sandler hams it up as Dracula. Andy Samberg, although just as spaced out as ever as Jonathan, gets a bit lost in the power struggle between Mavis and Dracula and barely gets to interact with his own son. Selena Gomez, fortunately, gets to explore more of Mavis’ impulsive nature as a once sheltered child and balance that with being a new mother. In terms of cast, the only no-show is CeeLo Green, who is replaced by Keegan-Michael Key as Murray the Mummy. New characters, both human and monster, join the cast and are voiced by so many recognizable actors you’d think Hotel Transylvania was haunted by the shambling, undead careers of former Saturday Night Live cast members rather than actual zombies.

Dennis is a great new addition to the cast. He is cute, full of spunk, and even has some literal puppy love going on with a little werewolf girl. He gets plenty of screentime, which, unfortunately means less for a character with loads of potential: Dracula’s anti-human vampire father Vlad. Vlad is mentioned early on in the movie as an old school human-hating monster who doesn’t know about Johnny, so the audience naturally anticipates his eventual appearance at Dennis’ birthday party. Great set up, but he arrives very late in the film and is played by comedy legend Mel Brooks. This isn’t a dangerous vampire you’re in for, but a funny one. So to balance that out, he is paired with an unhinged and obviously evil bat-creature friend. The great amount of screen time spent on the dual road trips of Johnny/Mavis and Dracula/Dennis might have been better spent to build up Vlad’s character, which would show the downside to being a monster that may turn Dennis off from the idea. Or they could’ve just used him to have more Mel Brooks; while not a very strong villain, his performance is very welcome.

Hotel Transylvania 2Despite shaky pacing, the movie is packed with laughs. Rapid fire jokes range from silly to smart to groaners to jokes about modern technology and everything in between. Children will love the visual stuff, and older audiences will appreciate the references (there are some great digs about the look of Dracula in the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola movie in particular). Obviously, not everything is going to land, and some of the humor is just weird, but the jokes do keep rolling. Genndy Tartakovsky returns as director, and while a fair share of his fans swear by his unmatched ability to direct kinetic action scenes, he really exercises his comedic muscle here, getting the most out of creatures of various shapes and sizes and finding the funniest character expressions and movements.

Hotel Transylvania 2 is fun in its concept but not exactly ambitious in its execution. More characters, a wider variety of settings, and an action packed climax make for a bigger movie than the first, but the issues it raises get resolved too easily. So while it’s a fun romp with the same great cast of characters as the first one and an energetic song by Fifth Harmony, Hotel Transylvania 2 is more like that vacation resort that draws you in on your first visit and then starts showing its cracked paint the more time you spend there.