Where do monsters go to get away from the horrors of modern life — namely, us humans?
That’s the lighthearted premise behind Hotel Transylvania, a fast, funny and wildly inventive animated tale with enough laughs and heart to appeal to audiences of all ages.
Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) is major-domo of the hotel, a secluded and welcome getaway for his menagerie of unloved fellow freaks, dead and undead.
He’s also a doting dad to Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez), who as the grand celebration of her 118th birthday approaches, longs to get out into the real world.
“Hush little vampire/ don’t say a word/ papa’s gonna bite the head off a bird,” croons Daddy Long Fangs in a flashback moment — a perversely amusing riff on The Mockingbird Song — as he disposes of a malodorous diaper in a coffin-shaped laundry hamper.
From the outset, we are reassured that Dracula and his ilk are far more afraid than the reverse of humankind, who long ago took the life (or un-life, possibly) of his dear wife, Martha. In fact, his diet consists solely of “blood substitute” rather than the real thing, which is “so fatty and you never know where it’s been.”
The rest of the monster mash-up are wittily drawn and rendered, among them slow-witted (“Fire . . . BAD”) Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James), a much-wearied Wolfman (voiced by Steve Buscemi), who must contend with a litter of furry terrors with more in the oven, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Blob and a rogue’s ghoulery of others.
The jokes, along with the animated action, come fast and furious. One particularly piquant detail: the hotel staff consists of shambling, groaning zombie bellhops, witches (with broomsticks, of course) as chambermaids and a series of shrunken-head door-hanger signs that drop amusing bon mots at every opportunity.
The festive mood is shattered for Daddy Drac when hiker/slacker-dude Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg) stumbles upon the hotel by accident, sparking a furious effort by the host to keep him away from the other guests, who would be horrified to find a mortal in their midst, and the wanderlust-struck Mavis.
The animation is superb, including the 3-D effects, with enough attention to detail to make the film worth sitting through more than once.
The humour is largely of the slapstick variety and likely to appeal both to youngsters and to adults, for whom the vast array of movie monsters is sure to evoke a sense of nostalgia for B-grade horror films of yesteryear. There may even be a little lesson in there for the grown-ups about the perils of being overly protective parents.
Which brings up a fair question: is this film suitable for the very young?
Well, there are a couple of brief (and comical) moments when an enraged Dracula swells up rather terrifyingly and a rather intense climatic scene in which he is nearly toasted by the daylight, both of which parents may wish to consider in their decision.
But don’t let those minor reservations scare you. Hotel Transylvania is a sweet, good-natured howl for the whole family.
Bruce DeMara is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.