Just in time for the spooky Halloween season comes the animated family fare ‘Hotel Transylvania 2.’ Yes, Drac is back and with him the rest of the whole monster crew as well as some new faces. ScienceFiction.com was invited to view the film as well as speak to director Genndy Tartakovsky and Michelle Murdocca about returning to the monster mash world.
‘Hotel Transylvania’ was not only the first feature length film for Tartakovsky but also his first foray into CG animation. This time around, the director wanted to push the boundaries even father and Murdocca (who also produced the first film) was there to help make it happen.
Michelle, how would you describe the Genndy style?
Michelle Murdocca (MM): [laughs] Put me on the spot! I think the Genndy style is more of extreme animation, just really fun, more stetchy, squashy animation…that’s kind of how I would describe it. It’s really fun and unexpected and that’s what makes it what it is. It not typical.
Did you have ideas of what the sequel would be or did you gauge reaction to the first one and see what direction you should go in?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY (GT) : I think in this case, Michelle and I were both off the movie. We were actually starting on Popeye already, and then Adam and Amy Pascal at the time…
MM: … and Rober Smigel
GT: Robert Smigel started talking about a sequel without us knowing. And then they started working on it and said “Oh we have Mavais and Jonathan have a baby.” Initially I was like that seems like idea #3 and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to do a sequel, but then as I was left out of it, I felt this was a family that we created and we kind of missed it and we thought maybe there was a way to do ‘Popeye’ and ‘Hotel T2’ at the same time and that’s when we kinda joined in.
MM: It’s interesting because the script that was initially written is nothing like what is on screen now.
MM: The development process is so fluid that it is constantly changing, and so we jumped in and everything started to change.
What kind of input did you have?
GT: Initially, we put up basically what Adam and Robert wrote even though we had different issues with it – it’s the normal process – then after the initial screening, everybody started to agree and we started putting in ideas. Like Drac should have a grandfather, that could be part of the whole family thing. Storytelling in animated films is very organic. You start from one spot, and hopefully get better each step of the way, and we definitely did…
MM: … leaps and bounds.
GT: One of the main things we struggled in the beginning especially was that in the first film Mavis was very outgoing and young and she’s a teenager… and in this one, she’s a helicopter mom. So how do you not kill the core audience that likes Mavis who she is so those sequences [in the film] used to be something else and we wanted to make sure they were fun and that she was having fun and we see the youthful side of her rather than the mom side. Going into a sequel is hard. There is all sorts of expectations. You want it to be better, you want to bring in new things in to give people a reason to see it, it’s very competitive out there so why would people want to see a second of something instead of something new. So we try to push everything, try to make it look better, try to make it feel new, but it really all comes down to the story. In this case, what’s going to be new about it, what’s exciting for the audience to click into. Yeah. I think, at the end of the day, yes. From the film that we started out with, to the film that we ended up with, we ended on a high note. But that’s the usual process.
Did you get to direct Mel Brooks?
GT: Yes! If you can call it directing! It was great! Mel was 88 when we first started doing it and I was initially nervous. Is he going to be energetic? You know, he’s 88! He walked in and was a ball of energy and really quick and funny and witty and he just started doing it. He’s such a big comedic hero for me that I was really nervous… but because he has such a legacy that has affected me directly so much I was very hesitant to say anything… He was very nice. It was more being a student watching him than being a real director.
Did the character change when Mel Brooks was cast?
GT: A little bit. Initially he was scarier. We wanted Drac’ father to be imposing especially the role he is playing but once [Mel] did the voice, we realized it didn’t match so we took away some of the scariness and made him a little more humorous.
What do you think of this franchise compared to other animated franchises?
GT: I think really it’s the animation and the way we construct a sequence. The cinematography. It’s more exaggerated and sometimes more simple. I like to put two characters talking to each other and the camera doesn’t move. We don’t do any over the shoulder shots, which is very unusual for animated films. It’s like a simple thing, but it creates a more iconic cartoony language. Over the shoulder is very television. You’re talking, the camera’s on you, then it’s the other way around, and it’s just boring. Where if you look at old Bugs Bunny cartoons, it’s Bugs and Daffy and they’re talking and doing stuff and you don’t really cut around a lot. So highlights the animation, and by design, that’s what I wanted.
There’s interspecies coupling and mixed families in the movie. How much does this translate to our world and how that inspires or informs where we are?
GT: There’s a bigger theme of acceptance running through the movie and we’re always careful not to get too topical but also not too preachy. So I think we try to show everyone’s point of view [in the film] in a comedic way at the same time there is definitely statements there that are being made. I think it is something that is balanced throughout the movie.
MM: I think ultimately the message is “get over it.” [laughs] It is what it is and this is the world that we live in and acceptance is really the bottom line for us. Like Genndy says, we ride a fine line and don’t want to get too preachy about it. We just want to have fun.
‘Hotel Transylvania 2’ stars Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, and Steve Buscemi with guest voice appearances by Dana Carvey, David Spade, Chris Kattan, Jon Lovitz, Molly Shannon, Keegan Michael-Key, Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman. The film is currently in theaters.