Recommendation: Hotel Transylvania


You may be wondering what a Greatest Living Author watches when he’s not writing. Well, how about “Movie Monsters: The Movie”?

The title card of Hotel Transylvania, the title of the film superimposed over a scene of a castle among trees and mountains.
Hotel Transylvania: Sony Pictures Animation.

Now, said Movie Monsters have a long and storied history, both individually and collectively in what is more or less film history’s first cinematic universe, with the first Universal Monsters crossover happening in 1943, a full 65 years before Iron Man launched the MCU.

Basically, the entire premise of Hotel Transylvania is “Here’s well-known Movie Monsters being funny.” More on that later.

All in all, Hotel Transylvania is probably one of the better animated movies I’ve watched recently, or at least one of the animated movies I’ve enjoyed recently.

Now, Pixar is probably the most famous, most profitable, and most acclaimed animation studio by at least several orders of magnitude.

Several desk lamps.
Eh. Close enough.
Photo by Ron Lach on

But there are plenty of other animation studios putting out good work.

Illumination has made nearly 4 billion dollars from a franchise based entirely on the premise (which, as it happens, is also a long-held belief of mine) that the best character archetype is “Goofy, Ineffectual Underling” — seriously, they got their own (pretty solid) movie. And Illumination is currently working with Nintendo put out a Mario movie in the near future.

Cartoon Saloon is doing award-winning 2D movies based on Irish folklore.

Studio Ghibli is still consistently putting out acclaimed anime movies, and plenty of animes in general are making it big all around the world.

And, while Sony Pictures Animation has had some misses — which, in some circumstances, may actually be an understatement — they’ve also put out some very well-received movies, including the first non-Disney movie to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars since 2011.

Which brings us to the Hotel Transylvania franchise, which currently sits at three movies, a fourth on the way, and a cartoon series — which is CanCon, by the way.

A poster for "Hotel Transylvania" depicting Dracula and his daughter Mavis.
Hotel Transylvania: Sony Pictures Animation. Image via IMDB.

Now, maybe it’s the fact that I feel like I’d make a very good Vampire — I mean, hey, I’m already pale enough that I look like the Sun will melt me and I enjoy popping out from around corners to yell “Bleh!” at people — but the Hotel Transylvania films really speak to me.

Bear with me here.
Looking for stock photos of “vampire” only brought up a bunch of broody-looking shirtless dudes for some reason. So here’s a castle that looks like it could have a vampire living in it.

Photo by Phil on

I love the idea of supernatural and/or super-powered characters dealing with everyday human problems. There’s just something so funny about incongruity behind the idea of Batman at the dentist or the Avengers ordering a pizza.

See, for example, my recommendation of Ya Boy Kongming! — that ! is part of the title, not part of the sentence, so here’s the real end of the sentence.

[And never forget that the localisation team robbed us of an anime called Kongming of the Party People…]

Fundamentally, that’s the premise of Hotel Transylvania.

It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like — Dracula operates a hotel for monsters. There’s a certain Nightmare Before Christmas-esque quality to the world-building, filtering everyday life through the lens of Gothic horror and classic monster movies. filtered in turn through a (largely successful) attempt to make the whole thing suitable and enjoyable for an All-Ages audience.

Hmm. Why does that sound familiar?

Though, permit me, if I may, to point out that the historical Dracula Vlad the Impaler was from Wallachia, not Transylvania. FYI: “Dracula” means “Son of the Dragon” and while there is a certain possible, likely deliberate interpretation on the party of his enemies and detractors of “Son of Satan“, it’s also a straightforward patronymic; his father was Vlad II Dracul.

The Dracula from the book has certain biographical details that don’t jive with the historical Dracula — being ethnically Hungarian, for one. Book Dracula, is however, indeed from Transylvania. Which, if anything, just further reinforces that he’s not supposed to be the real Dracula.

Pictured: Not Transylvania. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Incidentally, none of the Dracula movies we’ve ever got are very good adaptations of the original book (also, I think could have ended that sentence at “good”), largely because the book itself isn’t really well-suited to being adapted to film.

It’s written as a series of letters and journal entries, so there’s a certain level of detachment between the narration and events. It’s less “When suddenly, Dracula tried to eat me.” and more “Dear diary, Dracula tried to eat me today.”

Also, notions of what constitutes “horror” have changed a lot since since 1897, so Dracula doesn’t really land with the impact Bram Stoker no doubt intended it to.

Still, it’s probably at least worth reading if only to get a sense of how much like modern Pop Cultute Vampires the original Dracula isn’t.

Picture is maybe 65% related.
Sorry, I needed to break up all those paragraphs with something.

Photo by HitchHike on

This is, however, entirely irrelevant to the matter at hand.

Notably, Hotel Transylvania has marked the directorial debut of Genndy Tartakovsky. If that name sounds familiar, there are several good reasons for that. Especially if you grew up in the 90s.

Played by Adam Sandler-as-Adam-Sandler-as-Dracula, Hotel Transylvania‘s version of Dracula is pretty much a caricature of a caricature of Dracula. He’s clearly channelling the Bela Lugosi Dracula (because every Dracula since the 30s channels the Lugosi Dracula), but he’s doing it to deliver a 1200% comedic character.

This Dracula isn’t a suave, sexy villain trying to drink your fiancee’s blood.

No, this Dracula is a dorky, over-protective Dad. Clearly, this makes Hotel Transylvania‘s Dracula the most relatable version of the character — he’s the main character in a kid’s movie, and every kid has thought their dad is super uncool at some point.

It’s brilliant writing, really.

And it basically drives the drama of the movie. Dracula’s daughter Mavis is having the Vampire equivalent of her 18th birthday and wants to go out and explore the world. Dracula, as stated, is an uncool, overprotective dad, convinced that humans are single-mindedly devoted to brutally murdering monsters.

Now, it isn’t entirely unreasonable that he feels that way, given that his wife was, in fact, brutally murdered by humans.

A bat perched on a rock.
That got grim. Here’s a baby penguin.

Photo by Pixabay on

It’s surprisingly heavy for a silly kids’ movie. And it’s a refreshing change of pace to have the source of Dracula’s sympathy as a character be something other than “But he’s hot!“.

From this starting point, the plot of the movie is driven by the accidental arrival of Johnny, a human backpacker who stumbles into the hotel. Hilarity ensues as Dracula resorts to increasingly convoluted methods to conceal Johnny’s identity from the other monsters.

Also, deep human themes ensue.

Despite most of the cast being monsters…

But, seriously, Hotel Transylvania has one of the best anti-racism messages I have ever seen delivered in a movie.

Dracula starts to learn that humans aren’t all bad, Johnny learns that monsters are actually pretty swell, Mavis gets to learn about the outside world. They get married, have cute little dhampir babies. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Or, you know, continues to exist in a liminal state of eternal living death … happily ever after. Like, for example, the zombies, who weren’t really “living” to begin with when you think about it…

The first film, as is often the case, is the best.

The second movie is more focused on the interpersonal relationships of the Dracula clan.

The third is probably the most off-the-wall and least grounded of the three, but still has enough going for it that the quality doesn’t quite just fall off a cliff.

I haven’t seen much of the cartoon, but from what I have seen, it’s a fairly typical children’s cartoon.

But, yeah, overall, the series is a great ride. Especially if you’re looking for something not animated by Pixar.

The rest of my recommendations are here.

You can check out this week’s chapter here:

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