At “Hotel Transylvania,” they do the monster mash — and play monster shuffleboard, raid the monster mini-bar and visit the monster spa.
And whether you’re a kid with a fondness for plastic fangs or an adult who never misses a late-night cable viewing of “Mad Monster Party” or “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” you’ll be glad you checked into this 3D animated feature.
An impressive feature debut for Genndy Tartakovsky, the TV animator behind eye-popping hits like “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Samurai Jack,” “Hotel Transylvania” may lack the emotional oomph of Pixar’s best efforts, but it makes up for it with rapid-fire gags and an unflagging pace that makes this a rare all-ages treat.
In this telling, monsters are nice folks who just want to kick back without being chased by torch-wielding, pitchfork-heaving humans.
After the death of his beloved wife, Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) vows to protect their daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) from the savage cruelties of mankind, so he builds the titular resort, a lavish castle where Frankenstein (Kevin James), Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Murray the mummy (CeeLo Green) and Griffin the invisible man (David Spade) can relax, take a shvitz and enjoy repulsive, insect-packed gourmet cuisine.
(And yes, technically, he should be named “Frankenstein’s monster.” But that’s one of those subtle delineations along the lines of counting 1990 as the last year of the 1980s: technically correct, but no one cares.)
After more than a century in this cloister, Mavis turns 118, and she’s ready to see the world. Her horrified dad sends her to a local village (where he’s dressed up the hotel’s zombie bellboys as wicked, monster-hating townspeople) to dissuade her of the notion. Little does the Count realize that human backpacker Jonathan (Andy Samberg) will follow the zombies back to the hotel, or that Jonathan and Mavis will “zing” when they lay eyes on each other.
Forced by circumstance to let Jonathan stick around for the big 118th birthday party, Dracula dresses the slacker tourist up as a cousin of Frankenstein’s and forbids the visitor to fall in love with Mavis.
But the count finds himself warming up to the first mortal he’s met in generations, particularly after the two have a mid-air duel involving flying tables. (The scene may sound ridiculous, but it’s a real rush, particularly in 3D.)
In the same way that Noah Baumbach gave the “Madagascar” franchise a shot in the arm by co-writing the third entry, “Hotel Transylvania” winds up being much funnier than you’d imagine, thanks to the contribution of screenwriters Robert Smigel (the man behind “TV Funhouse” and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) and Peter Baynham (whose work runs the gamut from the controversial British TV comedy “Brass Eye” to the sweet “Arthur Christmas”). They plunge into these horror icons and turn them into new versions that are both affectionate and fresh.
Not many people were hoping for a Sandler/Samberg re-teaming after the nightmare of “That’s My Boy,” but here they generate a real comic rapport. Sandler’s Dracula ranks among his funniest screen creations of late (if that’s not damning with faint praise) while Sandberg creates a doofus who’s still believably appealing.
Tartakovsky underscores the comic zip of his performers by sticking bizarre and hilarious sight gags throughout, filling in the margins like the artists who created MAD magazine in the 1950s. He and his crew mine the comic potential for ambulatory skeletons, floating brains, blobby aliens and out-of-control werewolf children for every gag possible.
“Hotel Transylvania” is the kind of film that many will dismiss as being “merely” entertaining, and even if it isn’t as creepy as “ParaNorman” or as original as “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” it’s a boisterous joyride from start to finish.
In a hearse.