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Long ago in a distant land, he, Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of cartoons, changed the face of television animation with a groundbreaking moveable work of art called Samurai Jack.  The adventures of a noble Samurai zapped through time by the evil wizard, Aku, who Jack must defeat to find his way back to the past won Emmys and the adoration of animation fans everywhere.  Its unique artwork, minimal dialogue, offhand humour, entertaining pop culture references and incredible score were like nothing that had been seen before.  Tartakovsky also directed and produced popular cartoons like 2 Stupid Dogs, Dexterís Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls and won more Emmys for his fan-beloved Star Wars: Clone Wars miniseries.  With all this good stuff behind him, what could be expected of Tartakovskyís feature film debut, Hotel Transylvania?

Itís hard out here for a Dracula.  Despite the passage of centuries, the world still hasnít exactly embraced its local bloodsucker and the vampire still requires the safety and solitude of his own castle to protect himself and his own.  Why canít humans understand that like anyone else, the Count is a loving, caring parent who only wants the best for his child, in this case, a lovely teenager named Mavis.  Not taking any chances, the vampire has made a fortress of his palatial estate, employing all sorts of magical anti-human wards to keep people out.  However, having this gigantic home just to himself and his baby girl seems a bit selfish to His Royal Undeadness, so the social batterfly opens the castle as a hotel for other supernatural creatures who bask in the safety and security Draculaís castle affords them as they catch a little R Ďn R.  We catch up with the Count in preparation for the joyous celebration of Mavisí coming-of-age and he is determined that her 118th birthday will be a splendid and safe one.  He goes so far to protect his daughter as to fabricate her first adventure out of the castle and into the human world; hiring hotel staff zombies to enact the raging, torch-waving, vamp-hating mobs heís warned her about since she was an infant.  Convinced that heís done what was right to protect his baby bat and all is well, Dracula is thoroughly unprepared when despite all his best defenses, his castle is finally invaded by a happy-go-lucky traveler so oblivious that none of the magical barriers or Draculaís sure-fire powers of suggestion work on him.  The appearance of Jonathan throws everything into chaos as the very idea of humans near the monsters will put the hotelís survival at stake (NPI).  Not to mention thereís an instant connection between the unwelcome visitor and lonely, young Mavis, whoís never even seen another person her own age -- give or take a century -- which gives her overprotective father fits.  Forced to keep the stranger in the hotel incognito, Dracula uses clever costuming skills to transform Jonathan into ďJohnnysteinĒ, hiding the boy in plain sight.  However, even while transformed, the young manís breezy personality impresses all of the hotel patrons, including Dracís old pals, Wayne the Werewolf, Griffin the Invisible Man, Murray the Mummy, and ďUncle FrankĒ, who thinks Jonathan -- or ďJohnnysteinĒ -- is a long-long cousin.  The undercover humanís impetuous, fun-loving ways shake up the careful order of stodgy castle, further getting on the bad side of its bloodsucking proprietor.  Caught between his daughterís burgeoning independence and the influence of the good-natured interloper, Dracula might be forced to change the ideas and ways that heís stuck to for hundreds of years.

Being known for such an individual sense of style in his previous works, with Hotel Transylvania director Tartakovsky seems perfectly happy to lean on past masters like the shorts of Warner Brothers and Tex Avery for the breakneck speed of the movieís comedy, where it sometimes seems thereís 18 things going on at once.  Also, in the homage department is the filmís onscreen ensemble; an assortment of classic screen monsters.  The big Universal three are of course front and centre, Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman, but thereís the Blob, Quasimodo the hunchback, flying brains (Presumably visiting from Planet Arous), a hydra, Yetis, giant tarantulas and a facsimile of the Bumble from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, to name a few.  Itís hard not to think of the 1967 Rankin-Bass feature, Mad Monster Party, which Hotel Transylvania is close kin to (with a debatable relation to the 70ís Saturday morning cartoon, The Groovie Goolies), but itís the whiplash pacing, gorgeous visuals and heartwarming story of a fatherís love for his daughter that really sets the movie apart.  The rich artwork has lovely depth and texture and the gold, black and fuchsia palettes look like an animated storybook.  The angularness of Count Dracula himself is the closest to Tartakovskyís Samurai Jack animation style: The vampireís various stances and poses seem to have been drawn with a right-angle ruler, but that is combined with his constant 100-mile-per-hour motion that hearkens back to the old Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons.  The film features a great voice cast, including a barely identifiable Adam Sandler as the Count and Selena Gomez as his sweet, emolicious teen.  Steve Buscemi makes a great werewolf, albeit a run-down one as the monster is particularly fertile and canít control his overflowing pard of puppies.  Kevin James as Frankensteinís Monster must contend with the bellowing tones of a perfectly cast Fran Drescher as his henpecking bride, Eunice, who closer resembles Peg Bundy than Elsa Lanchester.  A boon to parents of small children, thereís a gentleness to Hotel Transylvania despite the rambunctious trappings and thereís nary a scary moment anywhere (Draculaís occasional aggravated Exorcist-face aside).  The opening sequence which takes us back to 1895 with Dracula caring for baby Mavis is pure sweetness and the story of how exactly the Count became a single parent is actually quite sad.  Itís clearly a film meant to please all ages and so it does, with the monsters and their fast-paced slapstick delighting the little ones and the clever, pop-culture relevant laughs, including Dracís dismayed discovery of the twinkly Edward Cullen (ďThis is how weíre represented?Ē) keeping grownups plenty amused and the pretty visuals of the production keeping everyone happy.

Charming, with a lot of laughs and even more heart, Hotel Transylvania is a fun time out at the movies the entire family can enjoy.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

September 28th, 2012

 

Click here to read our exclusive interview with director/animator Genndy Tartakovsky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Sony Pictures)

 

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