Sony Pictures Animation follows up their 2012 monster hit with a breakneck sequel, in which Dracula fears his 5-year-old grandson may not grow up to be vampire enough.
Dracula and his monster-hotel cohorts are still struggling to accept others’ differences in “Hotel Transylvania 2,” a doggedly frantic sequel that hews to the franchise’s rapid-fire comedic formula. In this incessantly busy story, the famed Count has consented to his daughter’s marriage to a human, but finds himself faced with a new tolerance challenge when his grandson Dennis is slow to develop fangs. What ensues is an avalanche of zany hijinks dominated by groan-worthy wisecracks targeted at young and old audiences alike, and Adam Sandler and his castmates’ overcooked scary accents. Unlikely to win over anyone who wanted to torch its predecessor, this more-of-the-same sequel should nonetheless prove a welcome pre-holiday diversion for the first film’s pint-sized fans, and at least equal the impressive $148 million haul of Sony’s earlier surprise hit.
After a brief intro races through vampire Mavis (Selena Gomez) and human doofus Johnny’s (Andy Samberg) nuptials, as well as the infancy of their baby boy Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), returning director Genndy Tartakovsky’s follow-up grounds itself in the weeks preceding the kid’s fifth birthday, which serves as the de facto cut-off point for bloodsuckers to sprout their chompers. That deadline’s impending approach strikes fear in the heart of Dracula (Sandler), whose newfound ability to stomach human guests in his hotel — and in his beloved daughter’s bed — is not so great that he’s about to sit idly by and assent to his descendant’s mortality.
Further compounding his anxiety, Mavis, concerned that the spooky hotel is no longer a safe home for her kid, is considering moving her brood to California. A trip by Mavis and Johnny to Santa Cruz to stay with his square parents (Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman), who awkwardly attempt to make their daughter-in-law feel comfortable by buying her a giant sunhat and decorating her bed like a Halloween attraction, affords Dracula the chance to train Dennis in the ways of the monster world.
With goofy Frankenstein (Kevin James), the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), and the Invisible Man (David Spade) in tow, Dracula works overtime to make Dennis embrace his inner creature of the night. The result is a series of equally tepid bits involving ancient rituals, visits to dark forests and plunges off perilously high towers that, like the rest of the proceedings, all revolve around the fact that, for all Dracula’s bluster, he and his once-frightening friends are now defanged spooks embraced by a 21st-century population less apt to greet their appearance with screams than with requests for selfies.
Although Dracula at one point reprimands a comrade by telling him, “We don’t have time for zingers,” “Hotel Transylvania 2” is awash in throwaway one-liners, to the point that its plot comes across as just a rickety skeleton designed to prop up Sandler and company’s litany of cornball punchlines and gags, only a few of which cleverly play off of these characters’ iconography (including an Igor-voiced GPS system that chastises wrong turns with “You imbecile!”). As is modern mainstream animation’s custom, adults are meant to be mildly amused by the few jokes tossed their way, from a fleeting image of Cesar Romero’s Joker from TV’s “Batman,” to Johnny donning a Dracula costume modeled after the bulbous-haired vamp Gary Oldman played in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film. Yet the action’s tone is so juvenile, and its pace is so breakneck, that those gestures (as well as a late appearance by Mel Brooks as Dracula’s evil daddy Vlad) seem like paltry concessions to the unfortunate grown-ups tasked with enduring these proceedings alongside their own progeny.
In its portrait of two families struggling to accept a relative even though he may not conform to their preconceived ideals, “Hotel Transylvania 2” functions on a number of social-allegory levels, though a persecuted-gay subtext becomes most evident during a climax in which Mavis decries both Dracula and Johnny’s parents’ use of the term “normal” as a way to define her son. Any message about the need for open-mindedness in life and love, however, is muddled by a slapdash plot that ultimately cares less about taking a stand in favor of progressive values than it does in superficially employing such feel-good ideas for unimaginative, hyperactive adolescent slapstick.