One of the great quandaries I have wrestled with for several years is whether or not it was possible to make a feature-length animated movie that contains the same level of hilarity and frantic energy as classic cartoon shorts. After seeing Hotel Transylvania, I am happy to report that it is not only possible, but utterly fantastic to watch.
Any cartoon fan or kid who grew up in the 90's should recognize the name Genndy Tartakovsky. Even if you don't recognize his deliciously Russian name, you'll know his work as director of Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars, and Sym-Bionic Titan on Cartoon Network. In 2011, he moved on to Sony Pictures Animation and Hotel Transylvania is his debut directing animated features.
After initially hearing about this film, I had very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love the director's work, especially Samurai Jack since it is a nearly flawless example of storytelling and superb animation. On the other hand, it is a movie starring Adam Sandler as Dracula and Andy Samberg as a human who wanders into his monsters-only hotel and ends up wooing the Count's daughter, played by Selena Gomez. Not a great premise and a voice cast about whom I was less than enthusiastic. Even the contrived-looking trailers made me question whether or not it would be any good.
Yes, the story is sweet if a bit dull, and there is nothing really shocking or innovative in a narrative sense. That is not why you should go see this movie. The reason you need to see it is because it is mind-blowingly cartoony. Scroll back up and look at that picture of the supporting cast. Rather than play up conventional monster designs, each of these guys has a unique look to match their personality. My personal favorite is the Mummy. He is basically a squashy pear wrapped in gauze, but that construction fits perfectly as he bounds around the screen like something out of a Bob Clampett cartoon. I don't even mind that Ceelo Green does his voice because it works. Every character design is striking and their actions feel animated.
Genndy comes from making cartoons for TV and he's not ashamed to show it. Rather than ground itself in a sort of reality like Disney or Pixar, this film revels in the fact that it is animated. Everything from the poses to the impossible sight gags show off the utter silliness on the screen. I hesitate to call it a 90-minute cartoon because that sounds a bit derogatory, but that's really what it is. You won't be moved to tears or blown away by the advancements in 3D rendering, but you will laugh. Like a cartoon short, every scene is crammed with funny bits and characters. Even the doors signs on the hotel rooms are sassy shrunken heads!
There need to be more animated movies like this. I have nothing against the stuff that other studios are doing, but they all draw from the Disney tradition of classical art training and setting the work in a world with laws and rules. There is a need for more movies that just chuck all of that and embrace the sheer comical impossibility of animation. Now that Hotel Transylvania is done, Genndy is getting ready to tackle a proposed new Popeye film. Hearing this should make me shudder, but knowing that it's in the hands of one of the best animation directors around, I'm able to rest easy.