About an hour into Hotel Transylvania 2, an exasperated Mavis, the young female vampire at the heart of the franchise, looks around and requests that we just stop using the word "normal." It's not just a line. It's the movie's entire theme, and it could be the theme for our new era of social media social justice and all-in awareness.
As messages go, it's a good one. It's a message of inclusion. It encourages us to look past our everyday biases and consider what "normal" really means, and how context changes that meaning. It lends Hotel Transylvania 2, an otherwise silly and messy movie, an extra layer of purpose. And it really does resonate. But it never really elevates the material.
Anyone who saw the first Hotel Transylvania knows the strength of the franchise lies in its characters. It's the story of the legendary vampire-turned-hotelier Dracula (Adam Sandler) and his relationship with his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), and how he comes to terms with her growing up and falling in love with a human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg). The supporting cast is instantly memorable because they're all classic horror movie monsters — the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key taking over for Cee-Lo), Frankenstein's monster (Kevin James), the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), and the Invisible Man (David Spade). You barely have to establish them as characters for kids to get the goofy jokes made at their expense.
This time, Mavis and Jonathan get married and have a baby named Dennis. We move past the marrying and the pregnancy at lightning speed because the movie really wants to focus on the family as little Dennis nears his fifth birthday. Torn between the human and monster worlds, Mavis and Jonathan are trying to figure out what's best for their son, who shows no sign of inheriting his mom's vampirism. Both Mavis' and Jonathan's families are going out of their way to be inclusive, but, just like in real life, sometimes they don't even realize they have barriers to overcome.
In an all-too-brief interlude in the movie, Jonathan and Mavis travel from Transylvania back to his native California. When they arrive, Jonathan's parents (voiced by real-life married duo Nick Offerman and Megan Mulally) have kept one half of his old room just the way he likes it while decorating the other half with cheap Halloween junk to make Mavis feel at home. It's a little ham-fisted, but it gets the message across.
Robert Smigel's story is smart enough to weave the inclusiveness message in with a big goofy dose of slapstick comedy for the kids: Steve Buscemi's Wolfman can't help chasing the hotel guests' tennis balls; the Invisible Man pretends to have an invisible girlfriend; and Frankenstein's monster is still hilariously terrified of fire. For all that, the script suffers from an inconsistent pacing that turns its timeline into a jumble of A-to-B-to-C plot points. And once you get a feel for its after-school-special morality, you know where every scene is going. Fortunately the movie plays to its strengths by leaning on its well-loved characters, with Mel Brooks bringing yet another one to life as Grandpa Vlad.
Isolated for decades or maybe even centuries on his own, Grandpa Vlad is the voice of the previous generation's bigotry. He hates humans and wants nothing more than to drink their blood. So how will these two worlds resolve themselves into one family? By realizing there is no "normal." That's a good message for all ages.