Hotel Transylvania 2 offers cute but brainless escapism for young moviegoers - as well as parents looking to distract their children for a few hours.
After years of fearing humans, Dracula (Adam Sandler) and the monsters of Hotel Transylvania have finally opened their doors to "normal" people - thanks to the star-crossed love between Dracula's daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), and her non-monster hubby, Jonathan (Andy Samberg). As a result, the titular hotel and its inhabitants are flourishing - as vacationers from all walks of life (rural, suburban, or monster) enjoy weekend getaways at Dracula's swanky Transylvanian inn.
However, when Mavis and Jonathan announce they are expecting a child, Dracula's true feelings about humans are put to the test - as the King of Darkness frets that his first grandkid will be human, not vampire. Dracula's concern puts added pressure on Mavis, straining the pair's relationship, and causing the expecting mother to question whether or not Transylvania is even the best place to raise any child - monster or not. As Mavis becomes increasingly distant, Dracula hatches a desperate plan to uncover his grandchild's inner-monster - a plan that catches the attention of Dracula's own father, and notorious human-hater, Vlad (Mel Brooks), along with his army of blood-thirsty man-bats.
Fan-favorite animated film and TV director Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Laboratory and Star Wars: Clone Wars) returns to helm Hotel Transylvania 2 - from a screenplay written by Adam Sandler and Robert Smigel. The result is another palatable but unremarkable effort that will please young theater visitors (with goofy monster hijinks and a straightforward tale of "acceptance") but, once again, struggles to deliver an animated movie experience with much to offer parents and older animated film fans. Still, for hard core animation fans, Tartakovsky's monsters are just as imaginative as ever and, with the story foundation already established in the first installment, the filmmaker is allowed more room to play this round.
Unfortunately, viewers who were underwhelmed by the original Hotel Transylvania story will not see significant refinement for the sequel. In a prologue indicative of Tartakovsky's larger film, the opening five minutes of Hotel Transylvania 2 fire by in a fast-moving montage that traces Mavis and Jonathan's pregnancy, as well as the first four years of their son's life - leading into the film's central narrative fuel: is Dennis aka "Denisovich" (Asher Blinkoff) a vampire and, if not, will Mavis and Jonathan move away (to the less-monstrous land of California)? It's a solid setup for kid-friendly, cartoonish, misadventure but struggles to offer a nuanced or impactful father-daughter story - much-less an inspiring rumination on the value of diversity and acceptance.
For parents whose children adored the first Hotel Transylvania, there is good news: Tartakovsky and Sandler dialed-back on the eye-rolling puns and low-brow jokes that made the original film difficult adult viewing. Instead, Hotel Transylvania 2 takes a slightly improved approach to humor, introducing characters and situations that, inherently, provide a platform for witty banter and physical comedy. There are still a number of unfunny gags that will leave most adults underwhelmed (and warrant only quiet chuckles from even the youngest fans) but the ratio of clever material to stale nonsense is improved for the sequel.
Beyond the addition of new cast monster Vlad (Mel Brooks) as well as humans Grandma Linda (Megan Mullally) and Grandpa Mike (Nick Offerman), the majority of Hotel Transylvania 2 characters are returning faces. Sandler offers a less grating version of Dracula since this story affords the starring monster with a bit more range and relatable material - as the vampire transitions from father to grandfather. Similarly, Mavis, a former target of her father's obsessive and protective nature, must face her own anxieties and tendency to coddle her son - an especially challenging prospect given that she married free-spirited Jonathan.
Jonathan, along with most of Dracula's friends Frank (Kevin James), Wayne (Steve Buscemi), Griffin (David Spade), and Murray (Keegan-Michael Key replacing CeeLo Green) are primarily window-dressing in the sequel - with smaller roles but, comparatively, better scenes and recurring jokes. Like the prior installment, the laid-back monster friends offer a fun counter-balance, and perspective, to Dracula's often melodramatic actions. Each of the horror icons get a moment in the spotlight, even though some are better than others; yet, each one is out shined by newcomer Blobby. Blobby may not be a particularly vocal participant, or important to the larger storyline; however, much like Dracula's various zombie bellhops, the character is a fun addition that earns many of the film's biggest laughs.
Hotel Transylvania 2 is playing in 2D as well as 3D theaters and, like many CG animated films, Tartakovsky's latest project looks good in the premium format. It's not a visually sophisticated entry in CG animation but the filmmaker's inventive designs definitely shine in 3D - especially scenes that relish in the Transylvania backdrop.
That said, as a film that provides very little substance for adults, it's surprising to see Tartakovsky trade noticeable "pop-out" 3D moments for a more immersive depth-of-field approach. Subtle use of 3D often makes for a better moviegoing experience but studios typically push pop-out effects in the animation genre to "wow" juice box crowds. For that reason, while the 3D in Hotel Transylvania 2 accentuates Tartakovsky's monsters, Hotel Transylvania 2's restrained approach, coupled with a younger target audience, makes it hard to imagine most viewers will get their money's worth from a 3D upgrade.
Hotel Transylvania 2 is not going to win-over viewers who were underwhelmed by Hotel Transylvania. Tartakovsky's latest visit with Dracula and Mavis affords slight improvements over its predecessor, especially in terms of comedic restraint; yet, there still isn't much substance for older viewers. Instead, Hotel Transylvania 2 offers cute but brainless escapism for young moviegoers - as well as parents looking to distract their children for a few hours. It's a harmless CG kids film, one that will have no trouble entertaining its target audience; though, in a genre full of films that can pull double-duty as quality movies (not just quality kids movies), Hotel Transylvania 2's weak story is at odds with the imagination put into designs for the film's monstrous inhabitants.
Hotel Transylvania 2 runs 89 minutes and is Rated PG for some scary images, action and rude humor. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
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