If an animated movie is a hit, the sequel generally gets a box-office bump, whether or not it besmirches its beloved predecessor. Given this, it seems like these sequels feel allowed to sweep in, leave integrity at the door, and make millions off our affinity for Lightening McQueen or whichever Chipmunk is your favorite. And yet, there are those surprise follow-ups that are as spirited and faithful as the originals (Toy Story 2, Shrek 2, How to Train Your Dragon 2).
So it was risky to make a sequel of an animated “scary” movie that was not so well-loved in the first place. A Hotel Transylvania 2 seemed doomed from the start.
But director Genndy Tartakovsky (of 1990s TV shows Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack) seems to have woken something from the dead after the pulseless Hotel Transylvania the first. Instead of going for bigger, badder, and grosser based on the fandom it didn’t have, it siphoned out the better bits of sequel formula and made something that rises high above its predecessor. It was just way more fun.
Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) is still running monster-haven Hotel Transylvania, which is newly open to humans, criticism from other monsters be darned. The Count has also just come to support his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) getting married to human Jonathan (Jesse Eisenberg). A year after the wedding, they have Dennis, the cutest animated baby-child since Boo from Monsters Inc., fondly called “Dennisovich” by Grandpa Drac.
But he appears to be fully human, and if he doesn’t grow fangs by age five, he never will. When Jonathan takes Mavis to California to stay with his parents and tour potential new homes outside the hotel, Dracula recruits his friends to help make a fearsome thing out of Dennis. They’re all rusty at being actually freaky, but they go along with it. Eventually, great-grandpa anti-human Vlad (Mel Brooks) must intervene.
Hotel Transylvania 2 blatantly (and to its credit) tries to be everything its predecessor wasn’t. Hotel 1 was devoid of any moving sentimentality; the second is flooded with it. The first followed the over-protective dad formula and actually kinda suggested that you need to be liked before you can be happy; the second tries to completely invert both ideas.
And mercifully, gone is the gross-out humor and fart-joke reliance of Hotel 1. All humor here does far better at nodding tastefully back and forth between kids and adults, from Batman references to baby-proofing the premises to the inclusion of Blobby, a wordless, smiling green blob of Jell-o. In particularly fun doses, we watch Jonathan’s parents (voiced by Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally) attempt to connect with their vampire daughter-in-law. Mullally decorates the guest room with Halloween props and invites over “other mixed couples,” one of which includes a bearded hipster whom she mistook for a werewolf.
So is there any protein to this confection? Or is it just a reiteration of that most popular of children’s movie tropes: “You’re perfect just the way you are”? We actually get some refreshing dips into different emotional places. The young married couple is stress-ridden but enthusiastic. Johnny suggests that more quality time with Mavis would make for better parenting. Grandpa Dracula is divisive, but not manipulative. Dennis deals with bullies without fighting back. And for once, all the in-laws mean well, and show it in different ways. But it’s not much to sink your teeth into.
And yet. The more “kids” movies I watch, the more I’m convinced there’s plenty to be picked apart, even if it’s no Frozen or Inside Out. All of the above could kick off a productive discussion. Even a familiar story doesn’t have to ring hollow every time.
I recently watched Minions with a multi-lingual friend. While I struggled to stay awake and made up my mind that it was just the worst, she later asked me what it meant, that we show kids a movie about creatures whose only cognitive thought was to find an evil master to mindlessly serve–“Isn’t that kinda crazy? Like why are we supposed to like the minions?” She also pointed out that they don’t really speak complete gibberish–she translated a handful of their lines and informed me that their sentences were made up of words alternating between Spanish, German, French, and others, but put together to form full thoughts. And–and–the movie includes a three-second reference to conspiracy theories that media made up man’s first step on the moon.
Busy lamenting Despicable Me, I missed all of that stuff.
It’s amazing what’s there when you decide to watch critically. And in my experience, it can also be amazing to hear what kids say when you ask them what they thought.
So if you’re inclined, see Hotel 2. It’s a blend of goofy, sweet, and balanced perspectives. And it’s sometimes corny, trite, and a bit too scary. But it’s as good a vehicle as any to ask deeper questions with your kids.
Sure, it’s possible that they’ll zero in on the remnant flecks of gross humor. But maybe they’ll picked up on a little more.
There’s a mixed bag of PG monster-movie “scary” parts that try not to be “actually scary” (except they are, a little). The Count throws four-year-old Dennis off a tower to prompt him to turn into a bat. Some fairly demonic-looking gargoyle henchmen attack the hotel company in a final scene. Great-grandpa Vlad, in an effort to “scare the fangs” out of Dennis, performs some sort of transformation of the birthday party entertainment guy in a monster suit, causing levitating, head-spinning and eye-glowing. That was the worst of it – the rest of the monster goony-ness sticks to zombie antics and vampires flashing their fangs.
Taylor Lindsay is a writer in New York City.
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