LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some notable upgrades have been made for "Hotel Transylvania 2," the sequel to the 2012 Adam Sandler animated vehicle that took a sizable bite out of the box office but proved to be less accommodating where the cobweb-bare script was concerned.
This time around, greater attention has been paid to story and character development (while scaling back on all the sight gags) and the substantial results give the ample voice cast and returning director Genndy Tartakovsky more to sink their teeth into, with pleasing results.
While it won't ever be mistaken for premium Pixar, the Sony Pictures Animation effort should have no problem scaring up a monster debut — the first Hotel Transylvania set a September opening weekend record — especially considering it'll have the family market all to itself.
Having had a change of heart over his monster-only guest policy, Hotel Transylvania proprietor Drac (voiced by Sandler) decides humans are allowed, just in time for the big wedding between his 125-year-old daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her slacker human fiancé, Jonathan (Andy Samberg).
But while he's opened up to the idea of monsters and humans living together in relative harmony, he's having trouble accepting the possibility that his newborn, red-headed grandson, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) may never grow a pair of fangs.
Overprotective Mavis, meanwhile, unsure that the hotel is the best environment to raise a child, checks out her husband's Santa Cruz hometown, while Drac and his pals sneak Dennis on a "monster-in-training" trip to his old childhood haunts.
As was the case of the previous film, the story doesn't really click into gear until the action moves beyond the actual hotel, but fortunately check-out time arrives much earlier in this go around, with Sandler and co-screenwriter Robert Smigel raising the various stakes.
There's still no shortage of sight gags, but most of them work, including a sequence in which Mavis attempts to childproof the hotel and its staff, as well as a recurring bit in which technophobe Drac discovers that it's tough navigating touch screens with freakishly long fingernails.
Given a larger canvas to fill, director Tartakovsky has fun contrasting Johnny's Northern California stomping grounds with the now-gentrified world of Drac's formative years, with energetically rendered, more colorful computer-generated results.
The evident character development is further boosted by the voice cast, including Kevin James as Frank, Steve Buscemi as emasculated werewolf Wayne, Keegan-Michael Key, who replaces Cee-Lo Green as Murray the mummy, as well as David Spade, Molly Shannon and Fran Drescher, who are joined by fresh blood Mel Brooks, fittingly cast as Drac's human-hating dad, Vlad.
"Hotel Transylvania 2," a Sony release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for "some scary images, action and rude humor." Running time: 89 minutes.
MPAA definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.