Original blog post of this recommendation can be viewed here.
Now, Pixar is probably the most famous, most profitable, and most acclaimed animation studio by at least several orders of magnitude.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Though, permit me, if I may, to point out that the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler was from Wallachia, not Transylvania and the Dracula from the book has certain biographical details that don’t jive with the historical Dracula — being ethnically Hungarian, for one.
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.
This is, however, entirely irrelevant to the matter at hand.
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 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.
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.
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. Everyone lives happily ever after.
Except maybe the zombies, who weren’t really “living” to begin with when you think about it…
But, seriously, Hotel Transylvania has one of the best anti-racism messages I have ever seen delivered in a movie.
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.
Copyright 2021 J.B. Norman.
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