“An Unusual Choice”
A Review of Hotel Transylvania 2 by Nick Olszyk
MPAA Rating, PG
USCCB Rating, A-II
Reel Rating, Five Reels
Early in Genndy Tartakovsky’s Hotel Transylvania 2, Wayne the werewolf’s four dozen children are running through Count Dracula’s luxury resort destroying everything in their path. When confronted, Wayne simply shrugs, “why do you think they call it a ‘litter?’” It’s a really funny joke, but more importantly underscores a subtle but countercultural message: family dynamics are tremendously difficult but well worth the effort. It’s remarkably sophisticated, especially for a film that lists Adam Sandler as a co-screenwriter. In a year that already produced Inside Out and is still awaiting The Good Dinosaur, here is another animated film for the ages that is also timely as the bishops of the world prepare for the Synod on the Family.
Hotel begins with the marriage of Dracula’s vampire daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) to her human boyfriend Johnathon (Andy Samburg), different sides of the track that met and fell for one another in the previous film. When the young couple has their first child, Dracula (Adam Sandler) insists young Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) will be a vampire even, calling him Denisovich instead of his real name. “He might be a human,” Mavis tells him gently. “Human, vampire, unicorn, whatever, as long as he’s happy,” Dracula insists. His tolerance is put to the test as Dennis’ fifth birthday approaches with sign of fangs in sight. With his gang of friends including Wayne (Steve Buscemi), Frankenstein (Kevin James), Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), Griffin the invisible man (David Spade), and newcomer Blobby the Blob (Johnny Solomon), Drac puts his grandson through a series of test designed to draw out his undead impulses but ends up causing more trouble than ever before.
While many films deal with budding romances or the challenges of middle age, virtually none address the time of life I and my friends inhabit: millennial parents in their twenties who are trying, largely unschooled, to start a family while still figuring out their own lives. Dennis is the protagonist, but plenty of time is spent looking at Mavis and Johnathon’s changing relationship. They don’t always communicate well and Johnathon selfishly hides an awfully big secret. Despite this, they truly love each other and are willing to work out their conflicts together; even parenting feels like putting railroads tracks under the train as it runs forward at top speed.
The tricky crossovers between the human and monster worlds which dominated the first film has somewhat abated but many problems still linger. There is tolerance, but not full integration, much like the 1970s as schools, sports teams, and social organizations dealt from the fallout from desegregation. Many mistakes are made, and bigotry arise arises in ways much worse than the first film. Peace can only be achieved through free interaction and but also letting one’s guard down, which includes acknowledgement of genuine differences – zombies eat brains, humans don’t. This theme of inclusion has been common in animated films ever since Lady and the Tramp but today unfortunately usually carries a subtle nudge towards homosexuality (think Happy Feet or Paranorman). Hotel firmly avoids this pitfall, clearly demonstrating that these “differences” are personal and cultural.
The term “progressive” often causes an allergic reaction in most Catholics as it is often used as euphemism for a whole host of anti-Catholic ideologies. However, Hotel demonstrates a better way to grasp progress as allowing oneself to experience uncomfortable change towards an understood truth. One obvious example is technology. Much of the humor in the middle part of film comes from Dracula’s misuse of his new smartphone which isn’t exactly compatible with 15th century vampire manicure. In order to make his hotel a success in this new human dominated world, he will have to accept a whole host of annoying but necessary changes.
More importantly, he is worried about his father Vlad (Mel Brooks) who holds a much more violent opinion regarding change and assisting in Dennis impending vampirehood. Traditional worldviews and rites are important and should be cherished but must change if discovered to be immoral. As Pope Francis mentioned last week: “it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past.” Yet progress can be taken too far as Dracula discovers when he takes Dennis on a visit to his summer camp and discovers his favorite activities changed to safe, insurance approved alternatives. Monstering ain’t what it used to be.
In midst of all this delicious thematic material, I’ve neglected an extremely important point: this movie is hilarious. I saw it at 9pm on a Friday night, and the theater was full of elementary aged children. Both them and I laughed constantly the whole time; it was a delightful blend of physical and situational humor with plenty of allusions to the rich cinematic history of monsters.
I dare not reveal the incredible twist ending when Dennis finally finds his natural vocation not through indulgence of ancient evil but moral zeal in defense of the vulnerable. Hotel Transylvania 2 is a beautiful treatise on the necessity of the nuclear family that sugar-hyped boys won’t mind a bit. This may be an unusual choice for synod party viewing, but I’ll it over Kasper’s nonsense any day.
This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on October 28th, 2015.