Sneak Peek: Hotel Transylvania
Last week I was among a select group of journalists in New York to get a sneak peek at Sony's upcoming animated comedy HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA. The kid flick comes from director Genndy Tartakovsky - whose name is most associated with the shows “Samurai Jack” and “Clone Wars” - and executive producer/star Adam Sandler.
While it will ultimately be shown in (and was made for) 3D, the footage screened was in 2D, as it's still a work in progress. The animation in a few sequences wasn't fully complete, but otherwise the movie looked ready to go.
First, a very brief summary of the concept: Dracula (Sandler) owns a lavish “five-stake” resort, where all of the recognizable monsters of the world – the wolfman, mummy, gill man, etc. - go to relax. On the weekend of his daughter Mavis's (Selena Gomez) 118th birthday, Dracula is throwing a big party, pulling out all the stops... but the arrival of a clueless American tourist (Andy Samberg) threatens to transform the affair into a disaster.
Nifty enough premise, and it's obvious that Genndy and his team have put great care into including every imaginable monster, creature and ghoul into the action - if not as main characters, then as background figures. At any given moment during the screened footage, you can see skeletons, a human fly, Dr. Jekyll, Quasimodo, the Yeti and on and on. A treat for fans of such things, but even little kids who don't get the references will likely find these characters likable and unique. (The monsters aren't frightening, obviously, so there are no worries about scaring off the little ones.) If the overall movie is good enough, you can picture yourself wanting to check it out again so you can pick up on the clever little details you missed the first time around.
The first clip shown was a scene between Dracula and Mavis. Mavis has practically never been off the grounds, and dreams of going out into the world. (Mavis, is should be noted, shares her dad's talent of turning into a bat.) Dracula has previously been reluctant to let her go out, but now relents...
The second clip is a little more eventful and amusing: The human tourist, named Jonathan, arrives at the hotel, sending Dracula into a frenzy – he has visions of torch-carrying, pitchfork-wielding humans, and knows if his guests see the newcomer, there will be a full-out panic. Drac briefly considers killing him (!) but figures that killing a human would “set monsters back hundreds of years.” He takes the young man into a broom closet and dresses him up as a Frankenstein's monster, attempting to blend him into the crowd before shoving him out for good. But the inquisitive Jonathan gives him the slip and, having not exactly noticed that he's surrounded by monsters previously, has a freak out when it becomes obvious that he's among a gaggle of freakish abominations. This is when we really get to see all the movie has to offer in terms of character design and creativity, as giant spiders, gelatinous blobs and other morbid creatures roam the lobby.
The third clip takes place after Jonathan has blended into the group; in fact, he's apparently now the life of the party. Dracula wants to kick him off the premises; he grabs him up and takes him out to a graveyard. After being ditched, Jonathan is joined by Mavis, and it's obvious an attraction between the two is already in bloom.
The fourth clip was a visual highlight, showing us Dracula and Jonathan, in the process of forging a bond, flying around a ballroom on “table ghosts,” which are exactly what they sound like. In 3D this sequence is likely a true stand-out.
Sandler is doing his Dracula voice, which I'm sure you can imagine easily. It works well enough in this context, though your enjoyment of the movie might ultimately depend on your tolerance of the comedian, as there's no disguising the fact that it's him. The only other talent I really got an earful of, Gomez and Samberg, were perfectly fine. We can expect to hear from Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Cee-Lo and Jon Lovitz as well.
My overall impression of the footage was that it looks to be a cute, easy-going family affair, but something that older movie-goers – especially those with a soft spot for classic horror in their hearts – will enjoy as well. It's MONSTERS, INC. meets an old Warner Bros./Tex Avery cartoon. (As it happens, Tartakovsky says that the Avery shorts were an inspiration.) This isn't going to be a Pixareque thought-provoker, but an amiable experience that grabs simple smiles and knowing nods as opposed to sentimental tears or uproarious laughter... Not a bad thing, mind you.
The animation is bright and vivid; I'm sure this will look wonderful in 3D. In talking about HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA's particular style, Tartakovsky said, “Feature animation is grounded in traditional principals, and we wanted to push it to a Warner Brothers/Tex Avery caricature way. We really worked hard with the animators to create very expressive faces, and to push and pull the CG puppets to make them do different things, and what that did was bring a real physicality to the film, a great, broad energy to it.”
Here are some general notes from the brief Q+A after the footage with Genndy Tartakovsky and producer Michelle Murdocca:
- There was some ad-libbing allowed – not a surprise considering the presence of comedians like Sandler, Samberg, Kevin James and David Spade – but it was more a case of the actors writing lines for the film and wanting to stick with them. Murdocca said of Sandler, “When he writes a joke, he likes that joke.”
- There are a couple of musical numbers in the film, and Selena Gomez gets to sing a little at the end.
- The concept for HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA was hatched over a decade ago, and it has gone through various iterations throughout the years. The actual production of this version took approximately one year.
- The film was being rewritten up until its last preview screening, which was only three weeks ago. (Week of June 4th.)
- While there were no rights issues in terms of using these classic characters, there were certain things the creative team was not allowed to do: The inside of Dracula's cape could not be red and he couldn't have a true widow's peak; the hair of the Bride of Frankenstein (played by Fran Drescher, natch) couldn't have the same exact stripes as the one from the 1935 film; Frankenstein's monster couldn't have the bolts on his neck, etc.
Not that anyone will really give a hoot if it's as entertaining as it appears to be.
|Extra Tidbit:||HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA comes out on SEPTEMBER 28th.|