And here we were thinking that “Hotel Transylvania” was all about competing with fellow 3-D animated creature feature “Frankenweenie” at the pre-Halloween box office. Turns out that with its theme of an overprotective dad who needs to learn about letting go, “Transylvania” could also be aiming for some of the current “Finding Nemo” crowd — and the work is entertaining enough that such ambitions wouldn’t be completely deluded.
Adam Sandler heads a collection of familiar pals and “Saturday Night Live” talent as Dracula. (The writers include “TV Funhouse” creator Robert Smigel, who you’d guess had a hand in the movie’s punchier laughs.) The classic-horror icon is presented here as a widowed, fretful father who’s less concerned with drinking humans’ blood (“so fatty”) than with steering clear of our whole torch-wielding, mob-forming species. He builds his castle/monster resort as an elaborate means for insulating his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), from humanity — which works until she hits her 118th birthday, and yearns to bid sheltered adolescence goodbye. Sure, it’s always nice getting together to celebrate with Frankenstein (Kevin James), the cub-beleaguered Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), and other family friends, but Mavis wants to see the world.
Enter Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a mellow-dude backpacker who stumbles across the hotel, prompting Dracula to hurry him into a Frankenstein disguise before the regular clientele freaks out. (Jonathan’s slyly scripted reaction: “That’s kinda racist.”) But, to the Count’s chagrin, Mavis is smitten. Monstrous complications ensue.
Some might say there isn’t enough that’s fresh here to recommend the movie in a big way, except that every generation of trick-or-treaters deserves its monster mash. A blue-skinned Frankenstein? Um, OK — but what else? And director Genndy Tartakovsky (“The Powerpuff Girls”), shifting from TV to features, seems to miss an opportunity for some goth-girl riffing with Mavis. Still, the movie maintains very likable energy throughout, and little touches add up: those smartly scripted bits, finding a workable excuse to toss in Sandler’s ukulele playing, giving us a Dracula’s daughter with freckles . . . It makes the character seem downright — yikes! — human.