The original Hotel Transylvania, which dropped in theatres during the sleepy September month of 2012 after a lengthy stint in development hell, wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was solid family fare. It was also one of the more successful projects of the rather hit-or-miss Sony Pictures Animation, only being outpaced in gross earnings by the ill-reviewed The Smurfs from 2011 so far. The same could be said of the rather shaky Happy Madison outfit of Adam Sandler, who already delivered the somewhat disappointing Pixels to theatres and the abysmal Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser to Crackle earlier this year, but they manage to actually do alright with Hotel Transylvania 2.
Hotel Transylvania 2 is at least watchable, and has enough entertaining moments to amuse children in particular, putting it a cut above most other recent Happy Madison productions. As for how it stacks up to its predecessor, well… It more or less hits that exact same level of quality. Fans of the Universal Monsters or of better animation studios like Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks Animation will probably still see this sequel as an underwhelming experience, but those who enjoyed the previous movie will enjoy the follow-up at about the same level, even if the lively animation is still the best thing about the movie, over almost anything else.
With the movie proper taking place seven years after the events of the first Hotel Transylvania, we reunite with Dracula, Mavis and Jonathan, and of course Drac’s posse of buddies such as Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man, as Drac has since opened up the hotel to humans as well as monsters. After Mavis and Jonathan are married, the two have a child named Dennis, whom Dracula wants to bring out the inner vampire of, despite obvious evidence that the child is actually human.
Unlike the previous movie, Adam Sandler actually wrote much of Hotel Transylvania 2’s script himself, alongside one of the first movie’s pair of writers, Robert Smigel. This might be a red flag to some, and it does undeniably explain why the jokes in Hotel Transylvania 2 definitely feel cornier, and like they skew more to children over adults this time. To Sandler’s credit though, this is one of the best scripts he’s delivered in quite a long time, even if the movie’s highlight gags, such as a jab at wedding drama and politically correct Summer camps, could have very well come from Smigel instead.
The big strength of Hotel Transylvania 2 is that the dynamic between Drac, Mavis and Jonathan is very heartfelt and believable, and once again, Drac’s motivations in the movie actually make sense. That was a big stumbling block of other family-centered Sandler comedies like Grown Ups (and its awful sequel) and That’s My Boy; Its characters didn’t feel very realistic or heartfelt. It’s a bit ironic that Sandler’s best family-centered comedy of recent years would be an animated movie about the Universal Monsters that seems to skew mostly to small children, but it still proves that Sandler has good scripts in him, when he has someone else around to prevent him from taking too much creative control.
In fact, Hotel Transylvania 2 even manages to make Mavis and Jonathan believable, with Mavis debating if it’s safer to move Dennis out of the hotel for the best experience growing up, while Jonathan desperately tries to make both sides of his family happy, in a strangely effective parody of modern couples that come from vastly different walks of life. Another big strength in the sequel is that, while there is still some selfishness behind Drac’s motivations, this time, he’s made more sympathetic, since his main reason for trying to provoke Dennis’ vampirism (which may not exist) is because he’s struggling with the idea of losing the only family he has. Rather than just trying to cover his own ass like in the first movie, Drac has something very big to lose in the sequel, and that’s why the sequel actually makes his character even better.
This is why it’s unfortunate that the movie hastily wraps up all of its character arcs with a sloppy, hollow conclusion that doesn’t feel very satisfying. The movie frustratingly sweeps all of its many conflicts under the rug thanks to a climax that comes completely out of nowhere, and that leads to the feeling that Hotel Transylvania 2 didn’t really have an exit strategy. Moreover, it feels like the movie didn’t have the spine to actually create real consequences for the characters. Just because this is a movie primarily aimed at children, doesn’t mean that the movie should never portray change or loss, because even children deal with this at certain points in their lives. It’s a big missed opportunity on the part of Hotel Transylvania 2 to really use its characters to help illustrate how to cope with this, and it has the aftertaste of the movie wimping out.
Fortunately, the lead-in to the sloppier climax is at least pretty good, even if most of it has the makings of a rather undemanding family road trip movie that simply has Drac’s returning accomplices become gag fodder and little else. Even a head-scratching romantic arc between Dennis and the Wolf Man’s lone female cub is mostly just played for pure giggles. Mind you, even if the movie is a bit lacking in brains (outside of one or two highlight sequences), it’s got a good amount of heart, and this comes through with the characters, who do manage to be funny at times, even for more discerning adults. Yes, their simple slapstick-heavy jokes definitely appeal more to children overall, but when the movie’s characters dare to go beyond slapping each other around, they actually achieve some pretty decent and clever laughs.
The big weak link in the cast unfortunately is Vlad, Drac’s father, though not because of the vocal performance of comedic legend, Mel Brooks, who is still at the top of his game in this part. The marketing made it seem as though Vlad would have a big part in the storyline, but actually, he simply shows up for the forced climax seemingly at random, and has almost no actual bearing on the plot. It smacks of false advertising, and it baffles me why Sony Pictures would cast Mel Brooks as Drac’s father (which is actually a great idea on paper), but then barely utilize him in a movie that’s already pretty simple and brief.
Still, Hotel Transylvania 2 packs in plenty of personality, and doesn’t simply feel as if it was made simply on account of the first movie making money. There is an honest effort put behind making the characters feel believable and sympathetic, and that’s even true of the monsters. The movie still largely emasculates the Universal Monsters to the nth degree, and fans of their vintage Universal origins will still be bothered immensely by how much Hotel Transylvania 2 turns them into childish gag fodder, but that aside, Hotel Transylvania 2 is a pretty charming follow-up, even if there’s a little more charm for kids over grown-ups.
Hotel Transylvania 2 is likable, but it’s also very uncomplicated. This is probably predictable, since the first movie wasn’t all that deep or complex either, but if you were hoping for the second movie to actually increase the scale of the experience, well, it doesn’t totally do that. Yes, it does visit a few more locations, and we finally meet Jonathan’s parents at least (who are hilariously voiced by real-life comedian couple, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally), but the rest of the movie is still pretty straightforward, and largely unfolds in the same area.
The majority of the plot kicks up when Mavis and Jonathan decide to visit Jonathan’s hometown in California, leaving Dennis to be babysat by Drac. Seizing the opportunity to try and bring out Dennis’ vampirism, which doesn’t seem to be happening at all, Drac decides to load up his buddies at the hotel, and take Jonathan on a trip to try and activate his vampire genes, which are supposed to come out by the time a child is five. Dennis is turning five in a matter of days, and if he’s confirmed to be a human, Mavis will very likely move him to California, far away from Transylvania.
Like I said, the sequel feels like it has more heartfelt stakes, since Drac is actually fighting for his family this time, and not just his reputation. This makes the fact that much of Hotel Transylvania 2 is an excuse to string together a bunch of silly slapstick jokes feel more forgivable. Also helping is the fact that some sequences in the sequel are actually brilliantly funny even for adults, with the visit to Drac’s old vampire Summer camp being a highlight.
A good chunk of the comedy will probably come off as excessively silly and childish to adult viewers however, even though kids will probably enjoy it just fine. There isn’t much to the story beyond its simple premise though, especially when the climax is a major cop-out that completely deflates all of the drama. I suppose Sony was worried about kids getting restless, which necessitated that everything be kept within the movie’s strict 90-minute runtime, but it would have been nice if the story had just a bit more bite, if you’ll forgive the pun.
Genndy Tartakovsky returns from the first Hotel Transylvania to direct the sequel, and once again, his direction is one of the highlights of the production. Tartakovsky is a master of animation in the television space, between Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars, and his unique style was actually realized very well in three-dimensional CG during the first Hotel Transylvania. Naturally, the sequel is also a colourful animation treat, which absolutely pops off of the screen with tons of style, making the movie feel very engrossing in terms of its visuals, even when the humour fails to adequately engage adult viewers.
Even though Hotel Transylvania 2 feels a tad more juvenile than its predecessor, Tartakovsky’s direction at least ensures that the movie is never short on energy, making it feel fun to watch, even when the story doesn’t have much to it. It’s a shame that the lack of depth doesn’t leave Tartakovsky with as much of a way to use animation to tell the story, simply leaving him to try and bolster the gags with it, but the movie is otherwise very well-produced, and carries quite a lot of heart and polish.
If you were put off by the more pop-y soundtrack in various places of Hotel Transylvania, Hotel Transylvania 2 doesn’t really change that. It even manages to pack in another questionably-placed musical number for the end of the movie, so if you thought the original movie’s was a bit much, well, you have another one to look forward to in the sequel. It’s all well and good, but it doesn’t really aim very high.
Fortunately, the sound effects aren’t bad, even if they are undeniably very slapstick-y. There isn’t a lot of punch to the effects, which feel very light-hearted and zany, keeping Hotel Transylvania 2 purely in the realm of cartoon sensibilities. None of it will be frightening to kids however, with the movie more or less unfolding as a big screen version of a CG television cartoon, only with the advantage of a little more Hollywood production value. Again, the movie doesn’t aim terribly high here, but in terms of being a light-hearted family movie, it gets the job done.
I’ve spoken at length already about how skilled Genndy Tartakovsky is in the field of animation, and it really bears repeating that Hotel Transylvania 2 is a visual marvel, just like its predecessor. This once again feels like some of the best animation work that Sony Pictures Animation has put together to date, and both kids and adults alike will be entertained at how much Hotel Transylvania 2 leaps off of the screen, even in a flat 2D screening.
You will get a little bit more out of the experience if you watch Hotel Transylvania 2 in 3D however, where its animation pops a little more, and grabs viewers with a tad more effectiveness. The 3D is merely good, not anything mind-blowing, but as with so many other things in Hotel Transylvania 2, it gets the job done, if you’re so inclined. The 3D makes just enough to enhancements to make it more recommendable than just watching the movie flat in 2D, if you happen to enjoy 3D movies, though I’m actually a bit astonished that the 3D wasn’t given a bit more potency, considering how well Genndy Tartakovsky thrives in the animation department, and how determined Hotel Transylvania 2 is to sell itself on goofy slapstick.
Hotel Transylvania 2 doesn’t elevate the experience of its predecessor, which is perhaps why it’s still hanging out in the wasteland of September movies this year. Still, as with its predecessor, Hotel Transylvania 2 is a highlight in an otherwise dreary September movie drought, even if it’s still nothing groundbreaking.
If you want something innocent and fluffy to take the kids to, Hotel Transylvania 2 will do quite nicely. It’s rather silly, and its high energy might very well leave children wired at the end, but it’s harmless, and kids will no doubt eat up its colourful presentation. As for adults, they’ll get a tad less out of the experience, but Hotel Transylvania 2 is still a likable and colourful diversion that can help get you through the later reaches of crummy September movie releases.
Like I said, if you enjoyed the original, you’ll enjoy the sequel, even if it’s not a movie that truly raises the bar for Hotel Transylvania. Sony Pictures Animation has had plenty of better projects in terms of writing, between Surf’s Up, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and Arthur Christmas, to name some examples, but Happy Madison probably hasn’t made a movie this good since, well, the first Hotel Transylvania, which was flawed, but at least watchable and charming, unlike most of their other recent works.
Hotel Transylvania 2 is still flawed in some ways, especially considering how much it comes apart at the end, but the majority of the movie will at least give you some decent chuckles. It’s not a real gut-buster if you’re any older than ten, but it’s another reliable diversion from Drac and the gang that stands as a bright spot for September, making it stand alongside the original, even if it doesn’t truly improve on it either.
- Drac's motivations are a little more heartfelt
- Animation remains outstanding
- Some real good laughs in the highlight sequences
- Adults will find much of the humour to be too childish
- Mel Brooks' Vlad is barely featured
- Lazy climax completely ruins the story resolution