The best animated features are those that offer eye candy for children – the primary audience – but are nonetheless tart enough for adults to savour without sugar shock setting in. The recent Wreck-It Ralph, located in the world of arcade games, was one such, a swirl of colour and texture that made us feel young again, as if we were back in school, in the back benches, bent over video games as the teachers droned on about history and math. It didn’t matter that we, in our country, don’t have nostalgic memories of arcade games from the 1980s. Our toy stories, as children, weren’t exactly populated with aw-shucks cowboys and self-aggrandising spacemen either – but that didn’t prevent us from being enthralled by the adventures of Buzz Lightyear and Woody. Hotel Transylvania, in this vein, seems a can’t-miss conceit. Halloween-friendly monsters for kids to squeal at. And movie-monster nostalgia for adults, with a quaintly accented Dracula, a double-jointed Frankenstein’s creature, and even Quasimodo, with a finger stuck up his nose. How can it miss?
But it does. As a clash of the worlds of monsters and men, this story of Dracula coming to terms with his daughter’s love for a human contains neither the manic narrative rigour of Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. nor the twisted Gothicism of The Addams Family. At best, we get minor gags like the caped count disposing of his daughter’s diapers in a coffin, and a rerun of the scene from Back to the Future where Michael J Fox electrifies a staid gathering with rock music. But the characters (voiced, among others, by Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Fran Drescher and Steve Buscemi) are cardboard cutouts that no amount of 3-D can bring to three-dimensional life. Dracula is defanged into a cutie-pie who prefers artificially prepared blood substitutes to the real thing, and Frankenstein’s creature is cuddly enough for a two-year-old to fall asleep with. (Invisible Man, though, is hilarious.) The saving grace is an antic sensibility that prevents things from getting really boring, but where’s the wit?
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