Saturday, September 26, 2015

Monster Cash (Grab): HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2

Hotel Transylvania 2 is the sort of movie that’ll satisfy some in the audience some of the time, but will satisfy no one all the time. It’s one of those cheerlessly and mercenarily divided family films where the jokes for parents and the jokes for their kids are completely separate. We get a joke about a butt, then a throwaway gag referencing childproofing. We get a joke about new parents needing alone time, then a joke about a zombie falling off a cliff. It’s broad in both cases, reaching for easy jokes and lazily winding its way down a set of obvious stereotypes. In its cartoony way it at least proves it’s willing to pander to everyone equally. But when I see Genndy Tartakovsky’s name in the credits, and think back to the great cartoons he’s been involved with – Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars – it’s hard not to wish this monster mash was more. This movie somehow doesn’t allow him the room to show off his visual pop, expressive action imagery, and effective all-ages plotting. It is dull, repetitive, and infantilizing.

It’s all too slack and aimless, the talented computer animators at Sony Animation finding nothing new to say in a world already fairly exhausted of potential last time. It picks up where the first Hotel Transylvania ended, with the cute vampire girl (Selena Gomez) having fallen in love with a dopey human boy (Andy Samberg) while her protective father (Adam Sandler) grew to be okay with it. Except he’s still harboring anti-human sentiments that doesn’t go away during the opening wedding, or through a few time jumps that bring him a grandson (Asher Blinkoff). See, the little kid with his big doe eyes and curly red hair is just too human for his grandpa’s (vam-pa’s) liking. Why, if the kid doesn’t sprout his fangs by his fifth birthday, he might be totally human. The vampa would be sad not to have his vampire genes passed on, but worse the kid might have to go live in the human world instead of a soft slapstick monster hotel. What’s a grandpa to do?

The screenplay by Sandler and Robert Smigel uses the monster/human tension to stage a too-cutesy metaphor for prejudice of all kinds. The boy’s parents will be okay letting their son be whoever he was born to be, but grandpa’s slow on the uptake. He conspires to sneak the kid out on a road trip with Frankenstein (Kevin James), The Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), The Invisible Man (David Spade), The Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), and a gelatinous green blob. They go through the countryside showing the boy how much fun it is to be a monster, but because they’re all buffoons they actually show how irresponsible and soft they’ve become. A stop at a vampire camp is a weird crotchety skewering of overprotective parenting. Are we supposed to be on the monsters’ side when they scoff at sweet campfire songs and roll their eyes at a condemned tower the campers aren’t allowed to play on? Seems fine to me. Later, after the monsters collapse said tower and set the camp on fire, the counselor accuses them of child endangerment. Uh. Yeah.

All of this is in service of an obvious message to respect others’ differences and accept people’s identities no matter what. They were born this way. It’s a nice moral, and I guess there’s enough zipping around and potty humor to hold kids’ attention. But it’s both too adult and too childish, unable to find a good middle ground between limp slapstick shenanigans, loose sight gags, loud pop music, mild riffs on monster iconography, and what the MPAA might call “thematic material.” By the time Mel Brooks shows up as great vampa Vlad, wheezing in his recognizable exaggerated old man voice (which has only grown more authentic as the years pass) it’s clearly a movie haphazardly aiming at too many demographics to work. It’s just an uninspired attempt to milk more cash out of a hit. How else to explain the prominently displayed Sony brand cell phones the characters use? It’s not every day you see an animated movie with product placement.

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