Here’s a sentence to tie an intellectual rights lawyer’s brain into knots: Sony’s ad campaign for its animated feature “Hotel Transylvania” features a take on classic Universal monsters including Count Dracula and Frankenstein.
Of course it’s not so simple for Sony — or any studio — to make a movie featuring Universal’s prized characters. U has trademarks or copyrights for many of the iconic movie monsters from its pictures of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, including Bela Lugosi’s look as Count Dracula, Jack Pierce’s makeup for the Frankenstein Monster and the Bride of Frankenstein, and the Creature From the Black Lagoon (a.k.a. the Gill-man).
“Early on, we got a list of criteria that we needed to follow, things that we could not do because they were trademarked,” says “Hotel Transylvania” producer Michelle Murdocca.
According to the list, the lining of Dracula’s cape can’t be red, so in the toon, it’s purple, and the Count can’t have Lugosi’s pronounced widow’s peak. “Frankenstein” can’t be green (Pierce used a green tint that appeared cadaverous on black-and-white film) and he can’t have electrodes on his neck.
“We tried bolts on his temples. We tried light bulbs on his neck. Nothing would get by,” Murdocca says, “so we went without bolts and we made him blue.”
The monster’s mate is not called the Bride of Frankenstein, but simply Eunice, and she too is blue. The Bride’s white-lightning-bolt hair streaks, too, are on the list. “(It) could not be a lightning bolt, so we made it a streak,” Murdocca says. “There couldn’t be two of them, so we made it one.”
Sony isn’t the only studio dealing with that particular issue. Disney’s animated feature “Frankenweenie” features a poodle that gets Bride-style streaks after an encounter with the eponymous monster dog. Neither Disney nor Universal would comment specifically, but it seems to have passed muster because a poodle is, well, just a poodle.
Besides avoiding a trademark tussle with U, there was one other hidden challenge for “Hotel Transylvania”: Count Dracula and his daughter Mavis (the ingenue of the story) are vampires who are supposed to drink the blood of the living to sustain their undead existence, not exactly a kid-friendly concept.
“We make a joke out of it,” says Murdocca. “He says he eats Blood Beaters. ‘It’s much healthier than blood.’?”