Thursday, December 27, 2018


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological*

I probably wouldn't have given HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA a second look except for doing my "monster mash" series on OUROBOROS DREAMS. I remembered HOTEL's first entry as a dull-as-dirt example of a monster spoof, and a second viewing did nothing to change that opinion.

The franchise originated with comedy writer Todd Dunham, and clearly his only agenda was to turn his kid-friendly monsters into a multimedia phenomenon. With the help of the star-power of Adam Sandler and various other Hollywood "names," HOTEL is now due for its third bigscreen movie-iteration, which proves that the establishment in California isn't the only place where "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

What will never leave me is the memories of seeing Sandler's abrasive persona crossbred with the Bela Lugosi Dracula, further crossed with Lenny Bruce's stand-up imitation of Lugosi (reputedly the source of the "bleh bleh bleh" schtick that this film so tiresomely recycles). Sandler's Count Dracula becomes the epitome of that favorite trope of kid-vid: the Terminally Uncool Father. This Dracula doesn't suck on people's necks; he just sucks generally. Since in modern times monsters have become increasingly marginalized by encroaching human culture, Drac has pioneered a hotel for monsters, where they can get away from their troubles with humans. (There's no telling what these difficulties might be; the script clearly doesn't want to allude to either monsters doing monster-ish things or humans retaliating, the better to soothe easily scared rugrats).

This Count is also a one-man vampire: he married long ago, but the wife is conveniently dead, leaving Drac with one familial problem: his daughter Mavis, who's just come into her teendom by reaching the ripe old age of 118. Drac doesn't want Mavis ever to check out of the antiseptic bubble he's created for her in Hotel Transylvania, much less to have any romantic entanglements with persons of the opposite sex. Rather than being the Overbearing Father who wants his darling daughter to marry a Monster in Good Standing, Drac wants to keep Mavis a kid forever. However, a human teenaged boy, Johnny, wanders into the hotel, and Drac is forced to weave a web of lies to keep Mavis from becoming fascinated with human culture.

This predictable storyline would have been tolerable if the Bayrham-Smigel script had managed to do anything witty with the monsters. But they too are just Uncool Middle-Agers, some of whom have lots of annoying monster-rugrats-- which I assume was something that kid-viewers found enormously appealing. For this big kid, the only half-witty line appeared when one of Dracula's zombie servants tries to sneak away with a mannequin, and Drac tells him to leave the dummy alone. Presumably the scripters knew that they could get away with one quick adult joke, as long as it came and went so quickly that the kids wouldn't notice.

For many reviewers, I'm sure it must've seemed like an exercise in futility to create a feature-film version of the venerable cartoon adaptation of Doctor Seuss's HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. Still, this is far from the worst remake ever.

For one thing, while the script is just as pedestrian as that of HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, the actors make some real attempt to enliven the proceedings, in part because the Price-Seaman script has to create a lot of new stuff in order to fill up two full hours of screen-time. This includes a "how the Grinch came to be" origin, including one Josh Ryan Evans as the green fellow at age eight, and-- in contrast to Seuss's original story-- some scenes in which various Whos, "both the tall and the small," aren't always as nice as they are in Seuss. Christine Baranski has some nice scenes as the Grinch's never-before-revealed Whovian inamorata, while Taylor Momsen acquits herself well as "Cindy Lou Who," who's a little more than two and given a lot more to do.

But of course, if one doesn't like the idea of Jim Carrey in this role, GRINCH is a dead loss. I'm not always a big fan of "Manic Jim Carrey," but I'm constrained to observe that by 2000 he'd proved that he could do more subtle roles-- notably 1998's THE TRUMAN SHOW-- and that there would really be no point in a toned-down version of a tall, furry green guy given to snarky humor (whose Karloffian accent comes and goes at a whim). Given how often Carrey is on film in full regalia-- often wearing other clothes on top of his furry outfit, or performing complicated physical stunts-- the comedian's sheer athleticism deserves some respect.

GRINCH isn't as touching as the original story or as amusing as the Chuck Jones cartoon, but it's never dull to look at-- and that makes it atypical for the oeuvre of director Ron Howard, one of the visually dullest long-term directors of all time. I tend to credit his art directors-- nominated in 2000 for best art direction-- for bringing Whoville to life, and even making it a little less sanctified than it is in the Seuss book. (In some ways, the Whos are a little more status-driven, perhaps closer in spirit to the good doctor's Sneetches.)

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