Hotel Transylvania 2 Is Frightful, But Not In A Good Way

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Animation

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Animation

This past January Sony Pictures Animation released its family friendly flick Hotel Transylvania 2 on DVD and Blu-ray.  The movie, which is the follow-up to Adam Sandler’s hit 2012 movie Hotel Transylvania pales in comparison to that movie even no that it has been released on DVD and Blu-ray.  It isn’t a total loss.  However it is anything but a success, too.  The movie’s story is one of its few saving graces.  It is actually a natural progression from the story behind Hotel Transylvania.  At the same time it isn’t without its own glaring problem.  The movie’s pacing is just as much of a mixed bag.  That will be discussed later.  Last but not least of note within this movie is the work of the movie’s cast.  Sandler and cast mate Selena Gozmez impress once again as Dracula and his daughter Mavis.  Sadly Andy Samberg is not as impressive as he reprises the role of Jonathan.  Luckily his portrayal is the only one that stands out as being truly underwhelming.  Sandler and Gomez both shine in their respective roles.  Together with the work of the movie’s writers, their work serves to make Hotel Translyvania 2 a pale shadow of its predecessor that is fun, but yet another forgettable flick that did not need to be made.  It shows in the end to be more proof that not every movie nowadays needs a sequel (or a prequel or remake either).

Sony Pictures Animation’s Hotel Transylvania 2 is a fun new installment in this franchise.  However it isn’t entirely memorable even with its few saving graces.  One of those rare saving graces is the movie’s story.  Even that isn’t saying much.  The story centers once again on Mavis and Dracula’s relationship as father and daughter.  The pair’s relationship changes even more here from the series’ first installment as Mavis becomes a mother and Dracula becomes a grandfather.  The change happens because Dennis, Mavis and Jonathan’s son, doesn’t immediately show signs of being a vampire.  Dracula doesn’t like this so he takes Dennis on a road trip while Mavis and Jonathan go on vacation.  The catch is that only he and Jonathan know that the trip is really to try and scare Dennis’ inner vampire out.  At the heart of the story is not so much the road trip and the antics of Dracula and his friends but Dracula’s growing realization that times and people have changed.  This includes the realization that even his own daughter has changed.  She’s not a little girl anymore.  Using such a story line is a time honored tradition for filmmakers.  So it is anything but new in its use here.  And that is in itself a problem for the movie.  It leaves one asking did the movie even need to be made?  This is asked especially considering how well the series’ first installment was wrapped up.  The honest answer here is a decisive no.  It did not need to be made.  The previous movie could easily have been left by itself.  But someone decided that it should and that it should use such a familiar story line.  Even with that in mind it still manages to entertain audiences in its use here.  While the time honored story line does manage to keep audiences entertained in the case of this movie, the story’s pacing counters that entertainment and ends up bogging down the story.

The story at the center of Hotel Transylvania 2 is an entertaining work.  This is the case even though the story is anything but original.  Even as surprisingly entertaining as it proves to be the story does have one major con—its pacing.  The story’s pacing is all over the place throughout the course of the movie.  It starts off almost right where Hotel Transylvania left off. Mavis and Jonathan are getting married.  They then head off on their honeymoon.  From there, the movie jumps to the couple returning to the hotel with their announcement about Mavis’ pregnancy.  Things don’t get any better from there.  The story jumps from there to Dennis’ birth and then from one birthday to the next until finally it reaches the days leading up to his fifth birthday.  According to the story, that is when Dennis is supposed to show the first signs of being a vampire.  This is so problematic because there are no clear transitions from one point to the next throughout all of that time passage.  It forces audiences to have to really pay close attention throughout those early potions of the story.  Luckily things do finally settle into a stable rhythm from here.  The problem is that the pacing doesn’t stay solid from here.  Instead of speeding back up the pacing reaches a point at which it feels like it slows down.  It slows to the point that older audiences will find themselves checking their watches.  It doesn’t get any better from there either.  At least it doesn’t until the movie finally ends.  By the time it ends, audiences are left feeling like the movie’s roughly ninety-minute run time is about half an hour longer or more.  Even as problematic as the movie’s unstable pacing proves to be to the movie’s presentation, it is made at least somewhat bearable thanks to the work of the movie’s two main stars, Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez.

The pacing of Hotel Transylvania 2’s story is a hugely problematic issue for the movie.  That is because of how inconsistent it is from beginning to end.  It doesn’t ruin the movie’s story.  But it does weigh it down quite noticeably, though.  Now as much of a problem as the story’s pacing proves to be for the movie in the bigger picture, it is countered by co-stars Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez.  This is especially the case at the points at which the pair directly interact with one another.  This includes not only the pair’s early interactions in the movie’s early minutes but also the pair’s interaction after Mavis discovers via YouTube what her father was really doing with her son.  Of course that moment is just as interesting.  Even though Gomez obviously isn’t a parent she successfully captures the fire that any mother would have when her child/children is/are in danger.  Her determination to get to Dennis will have audiences of all ages laughing and cheering her on, too.  The same can be said of her emotion in confronting her father about his lies.  It’s just too bad that Andy Samberg can’t be so openly applauded.  Given Samberg was just playing the part of Jonathan.  But his character is just as forgettable as is his portrayal of Jonathan.  Thankfully Sandler’s other cast mates pick up Samberg’s slack as they join Dracula on his road trip.  Steve Buscemi and Kevin James are a laugh riot as Wayne and Frankenstein respectively as a pair of supposedly scary monsters who are more mundane than monstrous.  David Spade is entertaining in his own right as Griffin the invisible man.  And Keegan –Michael Key is just as funny as Murray the mummy.  Audiences will love watching him try to be scary, only to throw out his back time and again.  It is a running gag.  But it never gets old at any point.  Key never overdoes it in these moments.  Because he doesn’t he remains just as funny the first time he pulls the bit as the last.  Whether through Key’s expert comic timing, Buscemi and James’ unassuming comic portrayals of their characters, or even for the work of Sandler and Gomez, the work of Hotel Transylvania 2’s voice cast by and large proves to be one more of this movie’s saving graces.  Together with the movie’s story the two elements combine to make Hotel Transylvania 2 a movie that while fun still proves to be a relatively forgettable story.

Sony Pictures Animation’s latest installment in the Hotel Transylvania franchise is not the series’ worst installment.  But considering its cons set against its far fewer pros, it is anything but a standout showing.  Rather it proves through its all too familiar story line and its problematic pacing to be more forgettable than fun.  Its only real saving grace is the work of its voice cast.  Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez shine again as Dracula and his daughter Mavis.  David Spade, Kevin James, and Steve Buscemi are entertaining in their own right as Dracula’s monster friends.  Andy Samberg is the only real disappointment among the movie’s voice cast.  Yes, Jonathan is supposed to be a somewhat airheaded California skater hippie type figure.  And yes, Samberg really plays up the part.   But he plays it up perhaps too much.  Thankfully the rest of his cast mates make up for that in their own portrayals, in turn serving collectively as the movie’s only real saving grace.  Keeping this in mind even with a story that is mildly entertaining at best and relatively enjoyable acting, Hotel Transylvania 2 proves in the end to be a pale shadow of its predecessor and a movie that is more forgettable than fun.  It is available now in stores and online on DVD and Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.

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Lionsgate’s Latest Family Friendly CG Centerpiece Will Entertain The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Lionsgate’s latest CG animated feature Jungle Master is one of the year’s more welcome family features to come along so far in 2014.  Unlike so many of the movies released in recent years by Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar, Jungle Master actually takes the road less travelled.  The movie’s animation is the most obvious way in which it takes that road less travelled.  Despite being a CG presentation, it doesn’t bare that cookie cutter appearance of the movies released by Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar.  Another reason that it stands out is its run time.  The movie’s run time comes in at just under the ninety-minute mark.  That’s a very good thing and will be discussed later.  Last but not least of all that makes this movie stand out is its script.  The story lifts lightly from The Wizard of Oz believe it or not and adds in a touch of Avatar for good measure as well as other sci-fi flicks.  The end result is a story that the while it may never be as big as anything from Dreamworks or Disney/Pixar, is still enjoyable in its own right.  It proves to be a movie that the whole family should watch together and will enjoy together when they do watch it together.

Jungle Master is not one of the most well-known family flicks to be released by any of Hollywood’s major studios this year.  That aside, it still proves in the long run to be one of the year’s more welcome family friendly flicks.  One reason for that is the movie’s “animation.”  Lionsgate’s CG features are completely unlike those of Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar in the realm of animation.  It’s almost impossible to tell Dreamworks’ CG movies from Disney/Pixar’s because they all look alike.  The only way to really differentiate the two studios’ works is by the studio names.  That speaks volumes.  Lionsgate on the other hand has strived to keep itself separate from the mold used by those studios in terms of its animation.  The look of Lionsgate’s CG movies is rawer for lack of better wording.  But it isn’t raw to the point of looking like some pieces from perhaps independent studio Engine 15 Media Group and others.  There is actually some attention paid to detail with Lionsgate’s CG movies, including this one.  That attention to detail helps Jungle Master maintain its own identity separate from its bigger name counterparts from Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar.  It even helps the movie to maintain its own identity from Lionsgate’s previously released CG features.  That mostly original look is just one of a number of positives that surround Jungle Master and make it stand out among this year’s crop of CG movies.

The largely original look of Jungle Master plays a key role in the movie’s ability to keep audiences engaged through its entire eighty-two minute run time.  That run time is another reason that families will enjoy this movie.  It doesn’t even reach the ninety-minute mark.  That relatively short run time drastically increases the chances of keeping audiences engaged from start to finish.  This is especially the case with the movie’s target younger audiences.  Most of the CG movies released since 1995—which is when Pixar broke the mold and released Toy Story—have averaged about ninety minutes.  There have been a small number of movies that have come in just under that time.  But most either reach the ninety-minute mark or go well over it as was the case with Toy Story 3.  That movie came in at almost forty-five minutes.  Luckily its story worked well enough that it still succeeded and quite well at that.  Speaking of story Jungle Master’s story works wonderfully with its run time.  Its story combines elements of a number of other movies to make a story that somehow actually works.  It’s one more way in which Jungle Master works and makes itself one of this year’s more welcome family films.

Both the look of Jungle Master and its run time are important to the movie’s overall success.  They each play their own important role to the overall presentation as they both have an impact on whether or not audiences are kept engaged.  Luckily, both factors succeed by themselves and together.  As much as they succeeded, the look of Jungle Master and its run time are not all that made this direct-to-DVD feature work.  One would be remiss to ignore the movie’s script as an equally important part of the whole.  The movie’s script centers on a twelve year-old girl named Rainie (pronounced rainy) who runs away from home ater her mother forgot about her birthday.  It is assumed by the fact that Rainie was upset enough to run away that her mother (who remains nameless throughout the movie) has probably left Rainie alone more than once.  Her decision to run away ends up taking her to al alien planet  and a much biger adventure that is directly linked to the company for which her mother works.  It’s thanks to her adventure that Rainie realizes her mom hasn’t intentionally ignored her, obviously leading to an eventual reconciliation between mother and daughter.  The central story of the parent/child relationship is obviously anything but new.  It’s been done more times than a person can count on his or her own two hands.  However, the story’s execution is what makes this plot work.  Screen writer Steve Kramer lifted liberally from the likes of The Wizard of Oz and Avatar to make this story.  While he obviously lifted from the noted movies, Kramer didn’t try to just remake them and mix them together.  He used them more as influences for his story about family.  What’s more he balanced said elements quite well; well enough in fact that audiences will be moved to overlook the references to said movies and enjoy the presented story.

Kramer’s re-telling of original writer/director Xu Kerr’s story is one of the most important of this movie’s aspects in considering its level of success.  He obviously used at least a couple of rather well-known movies that have come before as both influences and elements of this movie.  But he also didn’t try to just rip off either work.  He balanced them together to make a largely original story that centers on family.  That creativity and homage still is not all that makes this movie work.  One should also take into account the movie’s cast and even its bonus shorts.  Victoria Justice (Victorious, Victoria Justice, iCarly), Jane Lynch (Glee, Hollywood Game Night, WreckItRalph), David Spade (Just Shoot Me, The Benchwarmers, Tommy Boy), Josh Peck (Drake & Josh, Ultimate Spiderman, Ice Age: Continental Drift), Christopher Lloyd (Cyberchase, Back to the Future 1 3), and John Lovitz (Saturday Night Live, The Critic, Gorwn-Ups 1 & 2) make up the movie’s cast.  Lovitz proves to be the real star of the story with his comical antics voicing Mulla.  The fact that so many well-known names overall would feel confident enough about such a movie makes it even more worth the watch.  And the bonus shorts included with the movie will entertain children for a little while after the movie ends.  These extra positives combined with the positivews already noted make Jungle Master a movie well worth at least one watch together by any family.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate is available online at:

Website: http://www.lionsgate.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate

Twitter: http://twitter.com/lionsgatemovies

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Monsters University A College Flick For A Younger Generation

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Studios

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Every generation has its own college movie.  The 1970s boasted the timeless college comedy, Animal House.  In the 1980’s the social strata of college took another turn in the equally popular comedy, Revenge of the Nerds.  The 1990s saw art imitate life when Jeremy Piven (Entourage, Mr. Selfridge) and David Spade (Rules of Engagement, Tommy Boy, Saturday Night Live) went toe to toe in PCU.  The children of the 2000s even had their own college flicks in the Van Wilder franchise.  Sadly, that franchise was largely forgettable.  Now in the second decade of the 2000s, Disney/Pixar has released this generation’s college movie in the form of Monsters University.  It should come as no surprise to audiences that little more than four months after it premiered in U.S. theaters, Monsters University is already scheduled to be released on DVD, Blu-ray and BD/DVD/Digital combo pack.  It’s definitely not the worst movie of the year.  But it isn’t the year’s best, either.  Though in its defense, it does deserve at least a spot on the list of the year’s best movies.  The reason for this mixed response is that on one hand, it should be obvious to older audiences how this family friendly college flick is little more than an update of the previously noted movies.  This isn’t the movie’s only problem.  Just as Disney/Pixar’s Cars 2 focused far too much on Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), so did Monsters University have its share of problems with character development.  In its defense though, what can be said good about Monsters University is that it does teach some valuable lessons, which are just part of the heart that this story boasts.  That heart is just enough to make the movie worth at least one watch for those that have yet to see it.

The most obvious problem that rises with Monsters University is its general lack of originality.  Monsters, Inc. was such a wonderful film because it was original.  Not even the likes of the 1989 Fred Savage/Howie Mandel flick, Little Monsters could compare to Monsters, Inc.  In understanding this, Monsters University sadly pales in comparison to its forerunner in this avenue.  All it did was take elements of all of the previously mentioned college flicks and tone them down to make them into one family friendly movie.  Yes, it’s good that otherwise grown-up movies finally have a family friendly outlet.  But considering that Pixar has quite the history of being a front runner in the modern world of CG “animated” films thanks to its original movies, this mash-up of already made films knocks the studio (and Disney) down a notch.

The mash-up of so many already made films is only one of the problems from which Monsters University suffers.  Not only does it lift liberally from other much more classic movies, it even goes so far as to lift from its own predecessor.  That is obvious throughout the near two hour movie.  There’s even a scene in which Mike and Sully end up in the real world and have a heart to heart talk before their effort to return to the monster world.  This sort of writing behavior harkens right back to another Disney movie that goes by the name of Tron: Legacy.  That movie basically took the original and retold it for a new generation.  Monsters University has done much the same thing, just in reverse.  Yet again, points are taken off for that.  It doesn’t get much better from here.

Monsters University suffers quite a bit thanks to the fact that it lifts from so many other movies and tries to convince audiences that it’s something new.  What makes it worse is that its team of half a dozen writers do something that another previous Disney/Pixar movie had already done.  Just as Cars 2 ended up being more about Mater, Monsters University is more about Mike than his friendship with Sully.  Yes, audiences see how the friendship between the two originally formed.  But more time is spent focusing on Mike’s impact on the friendship than on the friendship as a whole.  Sully (John Goodman) ends up taking a back seat to Billy Crystal this time out, unlike the equal billing shared between the duo in Monsters, Inc.  Along with the story’s other problems, the collective issues noted here weigh down the story to the point that it makes it difficult to see beyond them.  Luckily though, there are some positives to the overall presentations that save it.

The first of the positives that saves Monsters University is its collective life lessons.  The story presented in this movie’s script includes lessons about acceptance, tolerance, and self-confidence.  They are taught as Mike ends up taking on the lead role of his monster fraternity and has to help them be accepted back into the university through a series of challenges.  Mike learns to have more self-confidence in himself through his experiences.  He also realizes a valuable lesson about how the differences in the monsters at Monsters, Incorporated were what made it such a legendary company.  Again, this goes back to that lesson of self-confidence.  It also ties in to the lessons of acceptance and tolerance in the bigger picture as he and his OK brothers fight to win their competitions and earn their way back into the university.  All of these lessons are important for viewers of any age.  So for all of the problems that weigh down this movie, it is these lessons that keep it afloat and worth at least one watch.  The movie will be available in stores and online on October 29th on DVD and DVD/Blu-ray/Digital combo pack.  More information on the home release of Monsters University is available online at http://www.facebook.com/WaltDisneyStudios, http://movies.disney.com/watch-at-home, and http://www.disneystore.com.

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