If the scriptwriters of Modern Family were hired to reboot The Munsters, you might get something like Hotel Transylvania 2. This is not entirely a compliment: whereas the first film in this computer-animated series was mildly amusing, its director Genndy Tartakovsky and his writers Adam Sandler and Robert Smigel seem bent on running the formula into the ground.
Hotel Transylvania ended with Dracula (voiced by Sandler) reluctantly granting his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) permission to marry her human boyfriend Johnny (Andy Samberg). Time has passed, and Mavis and Johnny now have a son, a sweet little boy named Dennis (Asher Blinkoff). While the couple are off visiting the non-vampire side of the family, Drac seizes the opportunity to show his grandson what being undead is all about, Tartakovsky cross-cutting between the two sets of characters in conventional sitcom fashion.
Like its predecessor, the film offers a appealingly frenetic, vulgar alternative to the solemnity of Pixar. The premise allows for frequent grotesque visual gags in the tradition of MAD magazine, as when Drac serves Mavis a bowl of “monster ball soup”. At the same time, a persistent strain of explicitly Jewish humour links the story to the real world – and there are also moments when the issue of marriage equality looms on the horizon, with Mavis and Johnny’s union referred to sneeringly as a “lifestyle choice”.
Often, though, it’s unclear what audience the film wants to reach. Kids are not likely to get the jokes about Gary Oldman’s wig in the 1992 film Dracula, nor sympathise closely with the emotional difficulties Drac faces in becoming a grandparent. Adults, on the other hand, will have seen virtually all of this before: US popular culture is already well-supplied with bumbling fathers being over-protective of their adult daughters, and turning Dad into a vampire isn’t enough to bring this exhausted material back to life.
Although the message of tolerance is hard to fault, there’s something depressing about the implication that vampires and ghouls are just as banal as regular folk. Surely’s there never been a cartoon where the characters spent so much time on iPhones (or rather, the Sony equivalent – the brand name is highlighted throughout). Only a couple of scenes – a brutal parody of Sesame Street, an unsettling moment where Drac throws Dennis off a tower – suggest that more dangerous, anarchic impulses lurk behind the facade of family entertainment.