2012’s Hotel Transylvania served two purposes: It gave Adam Sandler an excuse to collect a paycheck while sitting on the toilet, and it gave animator supreme Genndy Tartakovsky his first crack at directing a feature film. By most accounts (including my own), the film was not nearly as entertaining to listen to as it was to look at. Not much has changed in three years. Sandler gets to keep not wearing pants to work and Tartakovsky gets to keep making movies, so in that sense everybody wins. Hotel Transylvania 2 somehow has even less going on than the original, though, which is kind of amazing given the material.
The sequel opens with a wedding. Dumbass human Jonathan (Andy Samberg) marries vampire girl Mavis (Selena Gomez), daughter of Dracula (Adam Sandler). Soon the two have a son, Dennis, and are thinking about moving out of Dracula’s hotel to live with Jonathan’s family in California. In a panic, Grandpa Drac offers to look after Dennis while Jonathan takes Mavis back home for a few days. Once they’re gone, Drac rounds up his posse — Frankenstein (Kevin James), The Invisible Man (David Spade), The Wolfman (Steve Buscemi) and the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key) — to take Dennis to Vampire Camp, where they hope he’ll finally grow his vampire fangs, learn to fly, and beg his parents not to move away. Aww.
Instead of making Dracula’s fear of abandonment the focal point of the film, like the above synopsis might suggest, Transylvania 2 goes for the “Dracula’s weird racial hangups” angle. In the first Transylvania, Dracula’s character arc hinged upon learning that not only did humans no longer fear and hate monsters, they actually loved monsters. The sequel forces us to consider that angle from the other direction. Now that humans are cool with monsters, how much do monsters care for humans? It’s a question that the film squeezes a number of Addams Family-style jokes from, but then comes the question of Dennis being a half-breed. How much of a monster can the kid be with a giant, curly red afro and no vampire fangs? Will other monsters accept him for being half human?
One of those “other monsters” Dennis has to worry about is his great grandpa, Vlad (Mel Brooks), whose ideals on monsters and humans commingling are so old-school that he might as well be an undead Confederate general. Drac worries what his dad might think if he finds out Drac let his daughter marry a human. Tempers might flare, bat armies might be unleashed, someone just might get hurt. If that situation sounds like it’s ripe for some social commentary to you, just remember this is a film written by Adam Sandler and Robert Smigel. They’re not about to take this kind of material seriously for a second, and even though Dracula once again learns an important lesson about tolerance, he never really earns it. Ten minutes from the end, Dracula practically stops and goes, “Oh right, of course racism is bad. For a minute there I forgot.”
To that end, Transylvania 2 addresses race with all the subtlety of a stake to the heart. Jonathan’s parents (Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman) try to make Mavis feel comfortable in California by introducing her to other mixed-race couples. She meets a human woman and her squid-man husband, and another woman married to some regular lumberjack-looking dude that everyone assumes must be a monster. All of these people are white, of course. For a movie so laser-focused on race, every single character, monster or human, is whiter than white bread. Racial sensitivity might be too much to ask from an Adam Sandler movie, but would it have killed them to at least acknowledge the rest of the Californian melting pot? Maybe we should just be grateful that Sandler didn’t try to turn either of these films into a riff on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
Is that stretching things? Maybe a bit. But I’ll tell you this: There sure ain’t anything else going on under the hood. Bright colors, goofy sight gags, a couple of dance parties and a few fart jokes; that’s mostly what you’re going to find in Hotel Transylvania 2. There is one extended gag about how Jonathan’s vampire wig looks like a butt, because Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula is the timeliest vampire reference to make in a kids’ movie. Otherwise, the movie’s horror references stick to the classics, and even then, only sparingly. If that’s all you’re looking for, then by all means take the youngsters and have a ball. If you find yourself dozing off twenty minutes in, you won’t be missing anything, but just remember I warned you.
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