It's understandable why viewers would greet Hotel Transylvania with arms folded tightly across their chests.
Star Adam Sandler's recent track record (That's My Boy, Jack & Jill, Just Go with It) represents the weakest span in his populist film resume. His last foray into animation, Eight Crazy Nights, offered a welcome ode to Hanukkah and little else of consequence.
Yet Hotel Transylvania brims with creativity, wit and style, qualities too often missing from Sandler's recent oeuvre.
The film, available this week on Blu-ray and DVD, lets Sandler and his coterie of pals inhabit a spooky hotel where ghosts are more than welcome but humans must stay out--or else.
Sandler voices Count Dracula, proprietor of the titular hotel and one overprotective pappy. He's preparing his daughter Mavis's 118th birthday party--they grow up so fast, don't they?--but he isn't counting on a curious visitor entering the hotel grounds.
A human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) inadvertently crashes Mavis's bash, and before you can say, "opposites attract" there's a love connection going on.
That simply won't due for Dracula, who built the hotel in order to keep harmful humans at bay. He'd rather keep Mavis indoors rather than risk losing her to the world--and those pitchfork-wielding humans.
Maybe Drac should stop watching those black and white classic horror movies.
Hotel Transylvania's story doesn't stray far from the overprotective father theme, but it's as visually inventive as any animated film from last year. The character artistry rivals Pixar, from Dracula's nimble form to the film's stylish mummy (Ceelo Green). Even the facial expressions lap many animated productions. Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez, can emote more with her tight, twitchy smile than some action movie stars with their whole bodies.
The film gently milks that Munsters/Addams Family conceit that monsters are more normal than most of us, and a third act twist showing humans actually embracing their inner demon shows the whole enterprise is as sly as it is visually buoyant.
The film strains to reach the 90 minute mark, and Kevin James' Frankenstein monster feels like a partially missed comic opportunity. But Sandler's Dracula is endlessly endearing, a chance for the comic actor to put away the man-boy shtick and let him tap his paternal side.
It works. So does the vast majority of Hotel Transylvania, a welcome addition to the kiddie 'toon realm and a chance for Sandler to move beyond his recent big screen choices.
The Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a commentary track from director Genndry Tartakovsky and a traditionally animated short called Goodnight Mr. Foot. Making the Hotel offers a thorough look at the artistry behind the film's big set, while Progression Reels is aimed at those with serious interest in animation.