Hotel Transylvania 2
Rated PG for some scary images, action and rude humor.
Running time: 89 minutes.
Two and a half stars out of four.
“Hotel Transylvania 2” is the greatest movie Adam Sandler and Kevin James have ever made together. I believe this is called “damning with faint praise,” given their dubious track record (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” various “Grown Ups” movies, “Pixels”) but it also happens to be true, and relevant.
The sequel to the 2012 animated hit “Hotel Transylvania” falls squarely within the segment of Sandler’s oeuvre in which middle-aged dudes lament feeling out of touch with the young people today and their rock and roll music and whatnot. But “HT2” has far zippier energy than those phoned-in flops and a script in which it seems people actually cared about whether it was clever, entertaining and maybe even borderline thoughtful.
(I’m just gonna go ahead and assume that was Robert Smigel’s contribution to the screenplay, and not so much Sandler’s. Although as I wondered in our “What the Flick?!” review of the film, maybe this is the real Sandler, and all the other halfhearted crap is just what he pumps out because he enjoys going on vacation with his family and friends and pretending he’s making an actual movie in the process. The world may never know.)
The first film — which Genndy Tartakovsky also directed — was cute and harmless, but this one is even more consistently funny and crammed with inspired sight gags. I talk a lot on my site about animated movies and how well they work for various members of the family. “Minions,” for example, is totally for kids; “Inside Out,” meanwhile, is really more for adults. “Hotel Transylvania 2” doesn’t break any great, new ground and it’s pretty thin in terms of plot, but it’s a lot of fun for viewers of every age. I laughed out loud — quite frequently, I’ll admit — at the pop culture references and parenting jokes. Nicolas, who’s almost 6, cackled his head off at the goofy monsters and their antics, which often resulted in some sort of bodily injury.
(Although Nic’s favorite character, Blobby, doesn’t exactly have a body, as his name would suggest. He’s essentially a green Jell-O mold come to life, but his propensity for changing shape and getting stuff stuck inside of his translucent, gelatinous self makes him endearing.)
So: It’s a sequel. This means more monsters and more humans and more adventures. You can still check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. Vampire mom Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez) literally finds this to be true when she ponders moving out of the hotel with her human husband, Jonathan (Andy Samberg), and their almost-5-year-old son, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff). She wonders whether living under the watchful eye and sharp fangs of her father, Sandler’s Dracula, is the best place for her family now that they are trying to live a quote-unquote normal life. Drac, meanwhile, will have none of such talk. He hates change, as is so often the case with Sandler’s characters.
Plus, he wants to be around his only grandson in order to encourage the latent vampire tendencies he’s certain are in lurking within the boy. At this tender age, it’s unclear whether sweet, young Dennis will turn out to be a human or a vampire. He’s mixed. He’s a mystery. He’s Renesmee Cullen from the “Twilight” series.
And so, with the help of his monster buddies — Frankenstein (James), werewolf Wayne (Steve Buscemi), invisible man Griffin (David Spade) and mummy Murray (Keegan-Michael Key, taking over the role from Cee-Lo) — Dracula insists on training Dennis in the proud vampire tradition. This means scaring people, turning into a bat, etc., but innocent Dennis always manages to make these activities adorable rather than frightening. An amusing bit involves Dennis’ love of a TV “monster” known as Kakie who is hideously, hilariously misshapen and annoyingly cloying. He’s voiced by Chris Kattan. The increasing interference of Dennis’ well-intentioned human grandparents (Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally) certainly doesn’t help matters.
That’s basically the extent of it: “Hotel Transylvania 2” is episodic in structure until The Big Reveal as to the kid’s true nature. The involvement of Mel Brooks in a choice bit of casting as Dracula’s dad, Vlad, adds some oomph to the big conclusion (at least for the grown-ups in the audience); kids, meanwhile, might be frightened by the dastardly deeds of Vlad’s right-hand man, Bela (Rob Riggle), which put Dennis and playful werewolf cub Winnie (Sadie Sandler) in danger.
Ultimately, “Hotel Transylvania 2” is about open-mindedness and acceptance — the kind of feel-good sentiments Sandler usually tries to wedge into his films half-assedly toward the end. This time, it actually sort of works.