This review was originally published on September 8, 2012, as part of Film.com's Toronto International Film Festival 2012 coverage.
"Hotel Transylvania" is your classic "good idea turned to mushy execution" -- an idea which sadly still reigns supreme in the children's film arena. Combining Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and Dracula into an animated comedy? Okay, we're with you. Delivering a film heavy on fart jokes and light on actual jokes? Eh, you've lost us again.
Mavis Dracula (voiced by Selena Gomez) is Count Dracula's daughter; she's just turned 118. She's always longed to see the world, and finally her vampire poppa (voiced by Adam Sandler) has relented and is prepared to allow her a modicum of freedom. He's been planning her birthday party, and his hotel, the Hotel Transylvania, is the only one monsters can visit without the fear of human interference. So far, not terrible, and any parents in the crowd are probably still holding out hope for a Pixar or "How to Train Your Dragon" level of film.
Mavis is thrilled as she heads out to a local village. Finally, her chance to see something other than a castle. Only she finds herself surrounded by the cruel, cruel world, the field trip is a disaster, and then, gasp, a human appears at the front door of the hotel! Everything is headed toward doom. Can Count Dracula pick up the pieces and salvage Mavis' big day? Will Mavis learn that humans aren't so terrible after all? And is there any chance you'll say "ha" during the hour and a half the film plays? Spoiler alert: "yes," "yes," and "barely" are your answers.
The biggest issue facing "Hotel Transylvania" is that this story has been done before, over the past six decades, and done in a far superior manner. Okay, maybe it's never been attempted with Adam Sandler doing a goofy Dracula impression, but the idea of a protective father not allowing his daughter to see the world has been roundly considered. We know this story, and it's frankly astonishing that no one involved thought to come up with a greater hook than the continual site gag of "The Invisible Man." It's almost as if everyone figured throwing in a pop song montage and then introducing some faux romantic tension would carry the day. It does not.
Finally, there is the 3-D aspect. While it's generally a money grab of the highest order, there are movies that manage to do it with a measure of style. Not so for "Hotel Transylvania," a film that firmly wants to take the cash and give you nothing in return. The voice work is passable, and the look of the animation is steady and competent. Unfortunately, a children's tale missing an innovative story is still a miss, and this fall you'll likely want to book your stay at a destination other than the "Hotel Transylvania".