Hot on the heels of Paranorman, and with Halloween right around the corner, family audiences get to choose between two horror-themed animated films out in theaters now. If the box office is to believed, Frankenweenie is a disappointing dud and Hotel Transylvania is a real crowd-pleaser. In the words of the great Joe Biden, that's malarkey.
Frankenweenie, the new stop-motion animated film from Tim Burton, is a real delight. Shot in glorious black-and-white 3D, it's Burton's loving homage to horror movies of his youth. I'm talking about the Universal classic monster movies, and even some of the Hammer horror of the '70s starring Christopher Lee. Frankenweenie is superbly animated, and the story though slight and somewhat padded - not a surprise given the movie's live action short film origins - really gets rolling in the last half-hour, with creatures galore and a fun sense of chaos that's reminiscent of Gremlins. It's just the right amount of scary for the youngsters. This is a great return to form for Burton - his best film since 2007's Sweeney Todd. And, the best animated film of the year.
As for Hotel Transylvania, it may be more appealing to the under-5 set, but anyone over that age will surely roll their eyes at the stream of lazy gags and overprotective daddy issues that comprise the plot. Adam Sandler voicing Dracula and serving as a producer should give you enough reason to pause. Though the movie features a ton of monsters, they're only really utilized in the first 20 minutes. After that, the movie focuses on Dracula's relationship with his daughter and her human suitor (Andy Samberg), which is probably the least interesting story you can tell in a movie featuring Wolfman, Frankenstein, Mummy, Invisible Man, and other assorted monsters. The vocoder-infused musical sequences do the movie no favors, and really show the strain of trying to be hip.
So....watch Frankenweenie (****), not Hotel Transylvania (*1/2).