26 January 2013


Twelve Things about Hotel Transylvania

12. There are many Hotel Transylvania posters that I could have used to illustrate this post. I chose this one because the character I loathe the most isn't in it.

I mean, when I watch a movie about monsters who hang out at a special hotel so that they don't have to deal with humans, that means that I want to hang out at a special hotel so that I don't have to deal with humans, either. You know?

11. The first scenes in the hotel were really promising. As the guests--all regulars, apparently--start to arrive for the season, every monster cliche of the movies gets thoroughly, yet affectionately sent up. Take the werewolf showing up in one of those tacky short-sleeved office shirts and a tie, with a whole litter of uncontrollable offspring and a heavily pregnant wife. Not quite the "Alpha" dog of countless legends and movies, is he? And of course Frankenstein's monster and his bride would be Jewish . . . But did you expect they'd have New York accents, too? LOL!

There's obviously a lot to "monster culture" that we humans don't know, and I would have loved an unadulterated look at "ordinary" monsters just being themselves and not the scary stereotypes we imagine they are. But do you know what we get instead?

10. A picture is worth a thousand words . . .

Here are six more:
Humanity's representative is an idiot. Duh!

Is anyone else really tired of the earnest, sincere bumbler saving the day with his earnest, sincere bumbling, while the characters who actually understand what is going on and have an action plan end up looking bad? I don't mind the "Boy Who Didn't Know How to Shiver" archetype, but I don't think it is done well here.

9. In fairness, it makes sense that the only human ever to stumble upon Hotel Transylvania would be a backpacker. They're the adventurous sort, you know. It also makes sense that someone whose only ambition is to collect new experiences all over the world would be pretty chilled out in the presence of monsters. Well, why not? They're just another sort of foreigner, right? (Sigh!)

But just when you think you know which patronising ideological path the movie is going to take . . .

8. Back when I was reading Romance novels, I had a theory that the main reason that Paranormal Romance had become mainstream while Interracial Romance remained a quirky subgenre was that it was "safer" for characters of different gene pools to fall in love when one was a vampire and the other a werewolf than if one were black and the other white. It's colourblindness without the colour! All you need is love!

Then I started noticing more and more animated movies with talking animals rather than people, and realised the same principle applied. No one is going to accuse you of "classism" for having a "token" amphibian or "magic" arachnid in a world full of mammals. As long as none of the characters seems to be exploiting a racial stereotype, you're in the clear. It's diversity without the controversy! Everybody gets along!

This mixed marriage was "Made in Madagascar"

So I kind of respect Hotel Transylvania for trying to get under our skin (Ahem!) by moving this issue to the foreground. The cast may be as "multicultural" as it is monstrous, but until they drop their bigotry against humans, the filmmakers, acting as a collective superego, declare that it doesn't really count. 

7. The latest crop of "family friendly" movies may be self-conscious about "diversity" in ways that will be very retro in about twenty years, but that's partly because they want still to be watched in about twenty years. Hotel Transylvania isn't having monsters of different "races" hobnobbing together to reflect a contemporary reality, but to appeal to future audiences in a world that it imagines will be more tolerant than ours. Let's all meet up in 2032, watch this again with our currently unborn children or grandchildren, and see what we all think. It will be fascinating!

But this review is meant for the present, so let me keep going now . . .

6. There's a really silly bit of exposition at the beginning, in which Dracula reminds all the hotel's guests why they fear humans. Imagine a bunch of celebrities gathered for a party in a secret location watching a slide show that reminds them of why they hate the paparazzi. I couldn't help thinking it was a shorter, G-rated version of a something called the Two Minutes Hate. (Name that reference!)

What's wrong with this part is not that it's unnecessary, but that it's fake. Meant to show that the monsters have mostly misconceptions about humans, it tries to highlight the "irony" that humans have mostly misconceptions about monsters as well. But remember that the monsters in the movie had to be deliberately re-conceived by the filmmakers in order to make that point. Kind of the way Count Dracula gets zombies to pretend to be human in order to make the point that his daughter should stay away from humans. Now THERE'S your irony! =D

5. Which brings us to the most "normal" character among the monsters . . . Sadly, Mavis Dracula isn't actually necessary. In fact, she's kind of boring. The story needs her only so that Dracula can grow as a father--and so that young viewers raised on The Wizards of Waverly Place can find their bearings while watching a movie whose real main character is an adult. (When was the last time an animated feature was driven by a middle-aged man's desire to do his best for his daughter and his business?) But the father-daughter interaction pales next to those Dracula has with everyone else, including that insufferable human, who is the true catalyst of our hero's growth.

4. So back to that human, who said something which will date this movie faster than any of the socio-political stuff will:

"I'm only going to be [this age] once, right? Gotta live it!"

Does anyone else recognise the four-letter meme incarnate in that quote?
And does anyone else despise it, too?

3. And it's apparently impossible these days to make a funny vampire movie without a Twilight reference . . .

I'm actually disappointed they went there. We may have another vampire-human romance in this movie, but it isn't at all following the YA PNR trail blazed by Bella and Edward, which makes this joke a cheap crack. Hotel Transylvania may be driving home the point that a bit of bad press caused by a few members of one group should never cause you to write the entire group off, but it's tripping itself up again because all this good press featuring some lovable monsters is as fake as Bella and Edward are. Who is to say the Cullens don't watch cartoon vampires and shake their heads?

2. Do you know what's really cool, though? All the Universal "classic monsters" who made the new Essential Collection are represented in Hotel Transylvania!!!

Yes, even the human Phantom of the Opera--though you'll have to watch the movie to see how they do that! ;-)

Come to think of it, though, the Invisible Man is human, isn't he? And there's a chef called Quasimodo who is definitely human, too. How the former got his reservation and the latter got hired, I don't know! There seems neither inner logic nor harmony here. =P

1. Finally, if I weren't still dragging out my own Monsters vs. Aliens Movie Challenge (as described in my Twelve Things about Monsters vs. Aliens post), I'd announce a Classic Monsters Challenge right now. Not because Hotel Transylvania was that great, but because the Essential Collection Blu-ray cover is amazing!

Image Sources: a) Hotel Transylvania poster, b) Johnnystein poster, c) Gloria and Melman from Madagascar, d) Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection Blu-ray


Jenny said...

All I have to say is this. I have no desire to see this one. It looked cute in the previews until the bumbling kid shows up. I'm getting tired of it, you know?

Enbrethiliel said...


Your instincts have served you well! As I wrote in the review, everything was going wonderfully until the human entered the picture. Which means it all went downhill after twenty minutes.

Or maybe fifteen minutes? I would have also been happier if Mavis didn't pull an Ariel and want to be "free"--which is another big cliche of our times.

Fun and Fearless said...

This reminds me of the person I watched the movie with. He said "I hate that annoying kid!" several times. And all I did was to tell him to just enjoy the other stuff in the film. ^_^

Enbrethiliel said...


The kid just made it so difficult . . .