The "scary-monster animated movie" genre is a mug's game for reviewers, since -- having not been a father to one in many years -- it's hard for me to remember what will traumatize a four-year-old.
Except with Hotel Transylvania. I'm happy to report that this story about Dracula creating a resort/refuge for monsters to hide from humans wouldn't frighten a skittish poodle. The "very young children" disclaimer I'd give for ParaNorman or Tim Burton's upcoming Frankenweenie, doesn't apply to these defanged vamps, werewolves and Frankensteins.
That said, Hotel Transylvania is also most clearly the result of Hollywood process and polishing, reminiscent of dozens of other joke-filled animated films that glue awkward moral lessons on their contrived premises in an effort to replicate the trademark sentimentality of Pixar.
The one thing it does have going for it is its director, animation stylist Genndy Tartakovsky (a fanboy favourite from TV shows like Samurai Jack and Dexter's Laboratory). A creative step-child of the likes of old-time animators Tex Avery and Max Fleischer, Tartakovsky can stage a castle chase of enchanted banquet tables that is straight out of Star Wars with its motion and verve. And there are moments when the design artistry of the castle and its rogue's gallery of zombies, lycanthropes, etc. is an eyeful down to the smallest details (even the Do Not Disturb signs are talking shrunken heads).
But seriously. This is a children's movie with the audience attention span that implies. And when you're inclined to admire the scenery, you know the story isn't exactly compelling.
In Hotel Transylvania, Drac (a Hungarian-accented Adam Sandler -- yes, you heard me right) is getting ready for what amounts to monster tourist season, and for the 118th birthday of his "teen" daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), who has essentially been cloistered in the castle amid fearful tales of the evil humans who'd kill her if she left the grounds.
See, humans are the real monsters -- certainly a fresh idea ... when Rod Serling did it repeatedly on The Twilight Zone a half-century ago.
Enter Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a rad, board-riding American backpacker who wanders into the no-humans-allowed environment by mistake and is hurriedly tinted green to look appropriately monstrous, en route to rocking Mavis' world with his extreme, freestyle ways (nauseous yet?).
From here, it's a skip and a short batflight to romantic hurdles and requited young love and a "can't we all get along" message. In between, it's like a trip to the writers' table with gags about werewolves that pee, Frankenstein's monster's tendency to fart, and various smells and other unpleasantries that require the Hotel to employ ample housekeeping staff.
Say what you will about fart jokes. In a movie like Hotel Transylvania, they're all that keeps bored kids from running up and down the aisles screaming.
(This film is rated PG)