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Checking in with Hotel Transylvania'

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Animated film has thin plot, but plenty of laughs

As a rule, I don't tend to have particularly high expectations going into a kids' movie (Pixar being the exception, of course). So when I started seeing trailers for the new movie 'Hotel Transylvania,' I was on the fence as to whether I would even bother. I mean, Adam Sandler stars how good could it be?

But then I received a vital piece of information. Game-changing information. You see, it turns out that 'Hotel Transylvania' is the feature film directorial debut of Genndy Tartakovsky, the man behind the subversive brilliance of an assortment of wonderful animated series. This is the guy who unleashed 'The Powerpuff Girls,' 'Dexter's Laboratory' and 'Samurai Jack' on the world.

So I needed to see this movie, Sandler be damned.

Count Dracula (Sandler, 'That's My Boy') vowed long ago to help protect the monsters of the world particularly his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez, 'Spring Breakers') from the murderously misunderstanding ways of humankind. To that end, he constructs a hotel in the wilds of Transylvania designed as a gathering place where monsters can relax away from the perceived horrors of humanity.

A massive gathering of monsters arrives to celebrate Mavis's 118th birthday a group that includes Frankenstein (Kevin James, 'Zookeeper') and his wife Eunice (Fran Drescher, TV's 'Happily Divorced'), the werewolves Wayne (Steve Buscemi, TV's 'Boardwalk Empire') and Wanda (Molly Shannon, 'Casa de mi Padre'), the Invisible Man (David Spade, TV's 'Rules of Engagement') and Murray the mummy (CeeLo Green, TV's 'The Voice') among many others.

The Count's plans for a wonderful weekend are soon threatened, however, by the arrival of Jonathan (Andy Samberg, 'That's My Boy'), a human hiker who happens to stumble into the midst of the monstrous revelry. Since the Count's anti-humanity stance is vital to the hotel's success, he winds up disguising Jonny and passing him off as a monster. Alas, the plan quickly goes awry when the sheltered Mavis falls for the brash, fun-loving human.

I'll be the first to admit that 'Hotel Transylvania' is a bit thin as far as plot is concerned. The storyline essentially exists to propel us from silly joke to silly joke. And there are a lot of silly jokes. One of Tartakovsky's strengths has always been developing gags that work for children and adults alike, and there are a fair amount of those here. It's all extremely goofy in an engaging way. The unmistakable Tartakovsky style is in full effect as well; one peek at the richly realized look of the piece is all it takes to know what you're watching.

Sandler does a less-annoying version of the Sandler voice as Count Dracula; he and Samberg have some fun exchanges. The supporting cast packed with the usual suspects is clearly having a heck of a time. Buscemi and James are especially good, but everyone is having fun and bringing a joyous energy to the proceedings.

Truthfully, the best gauge for the level of success of a movie like this is the reaction of the kids in the audience. At the showing I attended, the kids absolutely loved it. They were alternately riveted and raucous, filling the theater with rolling peals of laughter.

'Hotel Transylvania' isn't the best animated movie you'll ever see. Heck, it might not even be the best Halloween-themed animated movie you'll see this year (the critically acclaimed 'Paranorman' just came out and Tim Burton's eagerly-anticipated 'Frankenweenie' is due later in October). However, there's an undeniable joy to this movie that will provide pleasure to children and parents alike.

3.5 out of 5

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