Synopsis: This week, as Hotel Transylvania (2012) clocks in nine years of release, examining how the deceptively simple film overturned established prototypes of monsters in literature.
Count Dracula could suffer from the empty nester’s syndrome, thought no one before the arrival of Sony Animation’s Hotel Transylvania in 2012, a 3D animated comedy about a bunch of monsters desperate to escape relentless efforts of persecution by humans. Helmed by Genndy Tartakovsky in his maiden directorial venture, the film successfully subverted the monster prototypes by slightly altering our anthropocentric perspective.
Voice starring Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler, Hotel Transylvania brought all the famed monsters — Frankenstein and his wife, the Werewolf family, Griffin the Invisible Man, The Bigfoot and Murray, the Mummy under one roof to protect them from being hunted down by humans. The luxurious hotel is the safe haven for monsters whose numbers are dwindling by the second as civilisations mushroom around them. In fact, what drives Count Dracula (Sandler) to build the hotel is the murder of his wife Martha by nearby villagers. The only time the scores of monsters leave the hotel is when they are convinced that humans’ attitudes towards them have changed.
Despite being a movie about monsters, the film insists on not vilifying them. As a matter of fact, they are the victims of human torture. Hotel Transylvania follows an insecure father, ala Father of the Bride (1991), who disapproves of his daughter’s human suitor.
The story focuses on 118-year-old Mavis (Gomez) and Jonathan Harker (Samberg), the main protagonist in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, who also happens to slash Dracula’s throat by the end of the novel. Hotel Transylvania subverts the us versus them to root for a union between the humans and the monsters. It sees Dracula befriending Harker, trying to hide him from the other monsters who believe humans are the cruellest creatures of them all, baying for monster blood.
Interesting, here the vampires do not have the resources to find fresh human blood. But they justify their fear of confronting humans by declaring human blood has too much fat for vampires to remain healthy for centuries. Thus they are forced to satisfy themselves with synthetic blood.
Most protagonists in Gothic literature and films are defined by their ability to transport themselves from one place to another to trap victims. From Dracula to Carmilla, vampires have historically left their castles behind in search of victims. In Hotel Transylvania, the monsters are locked up inside their safe house while a human assumes the otherworldly identity and trespasses into the hotel.
In an interview with Animation World Network, Tartakovsky revealed why he chose to reinterpret the characters as humane. “I didn’t want to be trapped in mythology. Dracula, he’s an obsessive father, but he still has all those controlling qualities that you think Dracula should have. He had that depth of being able to stand still and control the room, then completely freak out over his daughter leaving. It’s the contrast that always brings the humour. So, the more we could go from still to active, the more extreme it became, the funnier it became.”
Even Dracula’s castle is not the dark, sinuous, candle-lit gloomy space audiences associate with Goth fiction. The hotel, instead, has saunas and swimming pools, gyms and theatres, making it the perfect getaway for the petrified monsters. Not the monsters, the only human inhabitant in this place is utterly discomfited here. He is the misfit.
At the time of the film’s release, Hotel Transylvania was dismissed as a singularly entertaining film without providing much insight into the monsterverse. Critics argued that the film heavily anthropomorphised its characters to simplify the movie for its PG-13 audience. On closer inspection, one would gather that Hotel Transylvania successfully overturned centuries of tropes associated with anti-human beings.