A year ago this week I reviewed The Emoji Movie. Having survived countless childhood as well as adult traumas, I’ve become an expert at successfully compartmentalizing certain experiences from my normal waking consciousness and, as a result, haven’t thought about that film much since I turned in my review. But one thing I have thought about was the short that played before Emoji during its theatrical run, the cute and weird Puppy! At only five minutes, it was a one-joke premise (the Hotel Transylvania gang gets a gigantic new dog who eats a family of skeletons before they can check into their room) that convinced me that maybe the Hotel Transylvania franchise wasn’t the off-putting ordeal I’d always assumed based solely on the character designs and obnoxiousness of Adam Sandler’s voice.
But damn, those elements are hard to ignore. When I told a friend with kids of his own that I recommended it, he was surprised, saying he found the first two films “kinda unbearable.” And while Hotel Transylvania 3 isn’t the total horror show I feared it would be, it’s still pretty strange that these films are as big as they are. Like a morphed and screwed-up Universal Monsters for Kids series, the characters and story are like something out of an art film, veering closer to parody of something or other than to the tenets of what a movie made for kids is supposed to look like. And I liked it! It’s interesting, it speeds along and is relentless in how often the images on screen evolve into material that is as surprising as it is bizarre, creating an almost Dada-ist mise-en-scene. Yes, I just wrote that.
Looking back at my notes, I can barely believe what was going through my head as I was watching all of this unfold. A random sample: Vampire’s Kiss. Jessica Rabbit. DePalma. Terence McKenna’s heroic dose. The Blue Angel. Fart jokes. GW Pabst. Shelf butts in children’s films. 12 Monkeys. David O. Russell. The Last Jedi. My point here is that there’s a lot of disparate influences presented here, all in service of making little kids laugh for two hours. For that alone, it will find a spot somewhere on my list of 1,000 favorite films (it’s toward the bottom, but it’s on there).
Still, this is my first time wading into the deep end of this stuff. I’m a little lost, to say the least. Have the Van Helsings been supporting characters all along? The opening sequence and subsequent revelations about how they factor into the larger story would suggest not, but that’s weird, right? Has Dracula always had grandkids, and if so, have they aged? I have no idea. This is why I’m not commenting much on what the movie does so much as what it is. Because it’s a hell of a movie any way you slice it, whether you find the mere idea of watching it enough to send you off the deep end or if your kids are going to be playing it on DVD for the next several years (though those may not be mutually exclusive).
Rated PG for some action and rude humor. Now playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.