Sometimes a movie fails not because the story isn’t fun or because the characters aren’t interesting, nor because the actors aren’t enjoying themselves. Sometimes a movie fails because the message it is sending, whether intentional or not, is horrid. This last thing, the horrid message, is the case with “Hotel Transylvania 2” (not that the other bits necessarily work), and there is no way to write this review without delivering spoilers. Be warned.
Following on the heels of the story in the original “Hotel Transylvania,” this sequel finds Mavis (Selena Gomez) and Jonathan (Andy Samberg) expecting their first child. Mavis is, as you will know if you’ve seen the first movie, a vampire and the daughter of Dracula (Adam Sandler). Jonathan is human and that was a stumbling block in the first movie, but as Jonathan loved Mavis, Dracula gave the relationship his blessing.
Now though that they are expecting their first child, Dracula is worried that his grandchild may not be a vampire, that the child may be human. The movie fast forwards a few years, showing us moments from grandson Dennis’s life, and the continuing fears that he may not be a monster (we are told he has until the age of five for his fangs to emerge).
“Hotel Transylvania 2” is the story of a mixed marriage, something that is becoming more prevalent (I say this armed with nothing but anecdotal evidence). As with any other marriage, it takes time for both sides to get used to any differences, be they large (religious beliefs) or small (watching TV while you eat dinner), and to work through those differences. Here the differences are, perhaps, slightly more magnified… or are they? I am not sure, and I’m not even sure that it matters.
Dracula is obsessed with whether or not his grandson will be a vampire. Obsessed with it. At the end of the movie we learn that Dennis is indeed a vampire, and Dracula exclaims that it doesn’t really matter, he would have loved Dennis no matter what.
And therein lies the real rub – he says he would have loved him no matter what.
It is a patently false moment for the film. Dracula has learned nothing over the course of the movie to convince him of this, but he states it for two reasons. First, because the film has to state it; they have to say that it doesn’t matter even though they spend the entire time worrying that it does. Second, Dracula can say it because it isn’t something he has to worry about anymore. He can say it’s okay to be different because Dennis isn’t different, Dennis is exactly what Dracula wanted him to be.
What would have taken courage, what would have made the entire film far less horrific, is if Dennis was human and Dracula had actually learned that it didn’t matter whether Dennis and accepted his grandson despite the difference.
I do not believe that it is the responsibility of “Hotel Transylvania 2” to build an awareness of difference more than it is the responsibility of any other film, except in that the movie is centered on this difference. The entire movie is about Dennis’s DNA and whether his parents would be better off raising him with monster kind or human kind.
Once again, the answer to all those questions according to the film is – it doesn’t matter, you could be anything and we would love you, but only because we already know you’re like us and not them.
I could delve into the film’s shenanigans, which aren’t all that funny; the performances, which aren’t all that great; and various other aspects of the movie, none of which rise past mediocre; but there is no point in that. The message the film delivers is so absurd and so offensive that to offer more than a sentence or two on any other aspect obfuscates that which must be front and center in any discussion about “Hotel Transylvania 2.”
It is difficult enough to take back 90 minutes of foolishness with a last minute change of heart, but “Hotel Transylvania 2” doesn’t even bother with that. Dracula is only able to say the right thing, to do the right thing, when there is no longer any possibility of him not getting his way, when there is no power left to the choice.
I simply do not know how else to read the film except as being about mixed marriages, and for its astounding answer in accepting them to be, “sure, you can have a mixed marriage as long as your children are like us and not them.” This is something which I have a personal stake in (no pun intended) as my wife and I come from different backgrounds, and while that may have brought the issue here into more stark relief for me, the message being sent exists no matter one’s status.
photo credit: Sony Pictures