The Other Side of Animation 61: Hotel Transylvania 2 Review


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Last year, I reviewed one of Adam Sandler’s best movies, Hotel Transylvania. I mean, it’s shocking when a project with Adam Sandler pops up and it’s not terrible. Sure, it still had a lot of problems, like its cliché plot elements, story, and characters. However, for me, it was an enjoyable experience with more good than bad, but I can understand if someone wasn’t into this movie. So, last year, a sequel came out, and let’s say that the supposed “hate train” that certain directors, actors, and films receive came running on through the Hotel Transylvania 2 station. It was critically panned with a lot more negative reviews than the first film. People were calling it the worst animated film of 2015, and to me, they only said so because they hadn’t seen Strange Magic. Listen, usually I’m pretty agreeable on certain receptions of films from both critics and fans, but there are times where I disagree with both. What do I think of this sequel? Well, let’s take a look.


Hotel Transylvania 2 continues our story with Dracula, played by Adam Sandler, now having a five-year-old grandson named Dennis, voiced by Asher Blinkoff. Dracula tells his daughter, Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez, that he is a little disappointed that Dennis hasn’t grown his fangs. In fact, Dracula is so peeved at this notion that he goes behind his daughter’s back with her husband Johnathan, voiced by Andy Samberg, for Johnathon to take Mavis to his neck of the woods to see his parents, while Dracula and his friends help Dennis gain his vampire powers. On top of all this, Dracula will also have to deal with his father, Vlad, voiced by Mel Brooks, and his bat servant, Bela, voiced by Rob Riggle.


Let’s get the bad out of way, because while I think this film is perfectly fine and normal, it does have a lot more problems than the first film. First off, it falls into a lot of the same traps that most sequels fall into, with jokes and gags from the first film taking the space of newer jokes, being overly familiar in terms of story and pacing to the original film. It makes it out like the creators were afraid to progress the story, like in the sequels to How to Train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. Now, in some respects, they do show that progress has been made, in terms of the setting, where humans are now accepted into the hotel, but it’s not enough to make a difference. It’s also a story where the dad is being a giant jerk to his daughter, and I perfectly see why with this one story element, people might get upset or mad at the story cliché.


You also get the feeling that the executives were a bit more hands-on with the film. I say this because much of the dialogue and music choices felt like they were forced to be in the film. Not that the dialogue is all horrible, because there are a some great jokes, a good amount of soul, and humorous interactions between the characters, but it definitely feels a bit more fabricated. The ending also feels rushed. The film heavily advertised in magazine and online articles that Mel Brooks was going to be in this movie, and yet, he is really only in it for the last 20 minutes. It doesn’t help either that the moral of the story about being okay with yourself gets ruined in the final fight sequence, where everyone gets what they want. The final fight is also undone by the fast animation. I love the animation style, but it’s way too fast during this part. I also wish they could have had more time to invest into the interaction between Dracula and his grandson. Like, take out the repeated elements and jokes from the first film, and replace it with more heartfelt interactions between the characters.


So, what is actually very good about this movie? Well, the animation is very good. The film is directed once again by Genndy Tartakovsky, and his art style definitely translates well to CGI. The same attention to detail in how every character moves is in this film, as well as with new characters like Johnathon’s parents, played by Nick Offerman and Meghan Mullally, the vampire camp counselor, voiced by Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz as The Phantom of the Opera, and even Mel Brooks, in his short time, still does enough to leave an impression in terms of his character. The voice performances are also once again great with the same effort put into the same characters from the last film. I don’t know what it is, but Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, and Keegan-Michael Keye (taking over CeeLo Green’s character) work off each other well. It doesn’t feel like they were phoning it in, like they have in the live-action Sandler films. Even when the jokes don’t land, at least the eye rollers were better handled by the delivery of said actors. The humor in Hotel Transylvania 2 is definitely a tad more hit-and-miss, with some lowbrow humor that feels lazy, but it’s one of those situations where when the humor is good, it’s hilarious. You won’t believe what happens when actors actually act, they actually make themselves worth watching!


Listen, media critics, I don’t agree with you this time. I thought Hotel Transylvania 2 was fine! It’s not a great movie, but it’s not the worst film of 2015. Yes, it’s a bit more corporate-feeling, but it still has great animation, energetic characters, and some hysterical jokes. I wouldn’t recommend checking it out if you didn’t like the first one, but if you liked the first one and haven’t seen the second one, I would recommend doing so. I don’t think it’s as good as the first film, but it still has enough charm to not be an utter waste of time. Well, next time, we take a look at the gothic poet himself, Edgar Allen Poe, with an anthology film based on his work with Extraordinary Tales. If you want more animated spooks, then you had better be ready next time! Thanks for reading!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 2015 Christmas Special Part 2: Santa’s Apprentice Review

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Adaptation is a tricky thing to pull off in filmmaking when you are making something based off a popular product. You want to stay loyal to the source material whether it is a show, book, comic book series, and so on. However, making a film is a lot different than writing a book. You have to make changes, and adapt the license so it can fit into a film format. For example, you shouldn’t shove a full 20-episode season into a film that is 103 minutes. You know, like how The Last Airbender turned out. But, you don’t want to change it up too much and use very little of the original source material, like the recent worst movie of 2015, Jem and the Holograms. There are other bad adaptations of popular franchises, like Galaxy Express 999, but since this is the holidays, I wanted to talk about an animated film based off a TV series called Santa’s Apprentice. This French/Australian/Irish animated film is based off the animated series, SantApprentice. It was originally released in 2010 to a solid reception. So, why did I choose this animated film for Christmas instead of many other animated Christmas films? Well, this film was co-produced by the team at Cartoon Saloon, who made one of my favorite films of 2015, Song of the Sea, and The Secret of Kells. So, without knowing anything about the original source material, I am going to go into this film as if it was its own thing. I feel like that would be the correct thing to do, since an adaptation of something should be enjoyable for all, and not just for the fans, hardcore or not. Now then, let’s begin!

This film is set in a world where Santa exists, and has a very particular rule. After a certain period of time, the current Santa must bring in a new apprentice to become the new Santa Claus. So, where shall we find our new future Santa? Well, why not Sydney, Australia? The individual that was chosen is a young orphan boy named Nicholas. As the movie goes from the beginning to the end, Nicholas encounters a baby polar bear, a female orphan that lives in the same orphanage as him, a really crummy bully, a reindeer with lights on his antlers, and magical Christmas wonder. Can Nicholas become the new Santa Claus? Can this 77-minute film stand on its own, without relying on the original animated series?

Let’s begin with the positive elements of the film. Since this is animated by the same studio that made Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells, it is beautifully animated. While it might not be up-to-par with Song of the Sea, it still looks fantastic. Fluid movements, visually impressive locales, and bright colors are all gift-wrapped into a really remarkable-looking film. A lot of the backgrounds and scenery moments look like something out of a children’s storybook. It just screams Christmas. I also like the whole process of training to become Santa. Having to get presents under the tree without being spotted, going down a chimney on a house with no chimney, having  to play with toys from the past to get an idea of what to make in the future, learning how to fly in the sleigh, and so on. It’s pretty cool to see the movie break the job of Santa Claus down into individual challenges. I also like the voice work. Most of it can be soup of the day, but I think my favorite actor in the film is the one behind Santa’s voice, Shane Jacobson, who is most famous for his role in the mockumentary, Kenny. Maybe it’s because it the accent, but I really like this version of Santa. He likes jokes, is a hard worker, and is a pretty likable individual. I also liked Santa’s wife/personal assistant, Beatrice Lovejoy, who is voiced by Magda Szubanski. If that name sounds the tiniest bit familiar, she was Esme Hoggett from the Babe films. Anyway, Beatrice is also a hard-working and committed individual making sure Santa is okay.

Sadly, this is yet another one of those animated films that is lovely to look at, but has some lumps of coal under the tree. As much as I love the animation and scenery, the animation itself can get a little choppy at times. Another problem I have with the film is that the characters, besides the current Santa and his assistant, are not that memorable. The kid characters are boiler-plate, and they put in a really tacked-on antagonist, which is another orphan boy. I really don’t like the forced conflict of this villain, since I feel like the stake of the entire film is that Nicholas needs to be the new Santa. This jerk of an orphan is just not needed. Seriously, this kid should be in juvenile detention, not an orphanage. It’s funny how rotten this evil boy acts, since he is upset he wasn’t chosen to be the next Santa Claus. Well, maybe because you are a rude mean-spirited individual is the reason why you can’t be the new Santa. The little girl orphan is also forgettable, since she is just there to be the love interest for the main character.  I also think the pacing of the film could have been better. For a film that is 77 minutes long, they really cram in a lot of plot points, with characters who are not interesting, and are there for, well, plot reasons. It feels like to me they took a few story bits from the animated series and threw them in. You don’t even find out the orphan girl’s name until the last five minutes of the movie. It’s tedious to have to watch these forgettable characters, since it makes me focus on the somewhat ignorable art style of the film. The only design that stands out is Santa, and everyone else looks like something from a children-focused magazine. Granted, it looks much better than the animated series, but still, I think this film could have more unique designs in the kids and other characters.

So, that was Santa’s Apprentice. I honestly really wanted to love this movie. It has everything that I want in a good/entertaining Christmas special, but it so clunky in its plot, pacing, and characters, that it just misses that “Check it out!” rating. I think if they streamlined the plot, took their time, had more genuine emotional moments, fleshed out the relationship between Santa, Nicholas, and the young orphan girl, the film would be a true hidden gem. Who knows, maybe I’m being a bit too much like a Scrooge in terms of this movie, since I have seen a lot of positive reviews for the film. I don’t 100% hate this movie, I adore a lot of elements this film brings to the table, but if it’s flawed, then it needs to be talked about. I do know there is a sequel of sorts to this film, but from what I have read, and by read, I mean the 50% internet research and 50% personal guessing from said internet research, Cartoon Saloon didn’t help animate the sequel that is titled, The Magic Snowflake. Maybe if I can find this movie, I will review it for next year’s Christmas special. If you are looking for something a little different from a very talented studio, then maybe you should check out Santa’s Apprentice. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did. Well, that might have been somewhat underwhelming, but let’s end the year on a positive note with Robot Carnival. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Rent it!

Hit or Miss Trailer Predictions: Capture the Flag

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Welcome back to Hit or Miss Trailer Predictions. This is a series of first impression articles covering the newest trailers on animated films, and breaking down the good or bad that the trailer offers.

When you watch a trailer for a movie, you want to make sure what you see is easily translatable to the normal moviegoer. You want them to know the set-up, the characters, and maybe throw in a few jokes/action sequences to fill up the trailer. Basically, you don’t want to confuse the moviegoer with what kind of story your movie is telling. Apparently, no one told that to the individual who edited the English trailer for Capture the Flag, a Spanish-animated film being directed by Enruique Gato, who you might know as the director of Tad the Lost Explorer. Definitely off to a good start, aren’t we? (Once again, notice my sarcasm). Let’s get to it. Here is a trailer for the film, and you can make your own conclusions.


The Animation

Honestly, the animation doesn’t look terrible. This film seems to have a bigger budget for the animation department than many other foreign CGI animated films, and it doesn’t look as clunky as say, Tad the Lost Explorer or The Snow Queen. It still doesn’t look as good as anything Disney or Pixar releases, but you can tell they put a little more effort into the overall presentation.


The Story

Unfortunately, this is where I have the biggest problem with the trailer; the story looks to be all over the place. Capture the Flag seems to have four different movies in one. You have a surfing movie, a ‘kid trying to bring his family back together’ movie, a space flight movie, and then a family-oriented sci-fi movie at the end. It should never be this complicated. For example, you watch the trailer for Ernest & Celestine, one of my all-time favorite films, and the trailer shows off an offbeat/quirky friendship that the two characters make, and one that their respective societies don’t think should happen. It’s easy to get into, and you aren’t confused by the end of it. Capture the Flag just looks confused in what it wants to be.


Art Direction

I honestly don’t have much to say about this part of the film. It has a generic Pixar-style look. It at least looks better than Snow Queens or Legend of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.



This is sadly another part about which I don’t have a lot to say. The humor sounds generic, and I’m not saying this film needs to be laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it would help if the writing was better, and I couldn’t see the jokes coming a mile away. Or, just make the writing more charming.


Any last minute good/bad comments?

Capture the Flag sounds like it’s trying to be hip and ‘with it’. With all the surfing and terms like “dude” being used, this would have been more fitting, even if still dated, if it relwased in the 90s. It reminds me again why films like How to Train your Dragon, Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, and Song of the Sea work. Just be your own thing, and not stress out about being modern with the young kids. Remember, the kids who are seeing this are probably being taken by their parents. Entertain both!


Prediction: Critical Miss Maybe?

I feel like this film will probably be a critical bomb on release here in the states, but who knows. It could be like Dreamwork’s Sinbad film where it tries too hard to be for the younger crowd, but still has all of those elements that make any Sinbad film fun to watch. I’m glad to see the animation is better than most, but if they would just dial back on the pandering, take out a few of the plot elements, and be a more relatable or stable film, it would be much better. I don’t think Paramount, Capture The Flag’s distributor, has a huge hit on their hands, but we will have to see.