The trailers and other assorted promotional materials for Hotel Transylvania had not led me to expect much out of it. My assumption that it would be a rather routine animated family film, featuring pop culture references, celebrities instead of real voice actors, fart jokes, and an innocuous message, was pretty much accurate. But there are other aspects of the movie that save it from total mediocrity, even if they don’t elevate it to anything special.

Adam Sandler plays Dracula, who it turns out is a much nicer guy than his reputation suggests. He doesn’t like drinking human blood, and generally prefers keeping to himself over terrorizing villagers. Unfortunately, humanity has it in for him and his fellow monsters such as Frankenstein (Kevin James), Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Murray the mummy (Cee Lo Green), and Griffin the invisible man (David Spade). Dracula decides to build a refuge from the rest of the world: Hotel Transylvania, a place where he can keep his beloved daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) safe, and a place for monsters to spend a nice vacation. Over a century later, Mavis is celebrating her 118th birthday, and the over-protective Dracula fears her finally venturing out into the world. His efforts to convince her to stay in the hotel are complicated by the arrival of a human, a backpacker named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) who instantly develops a mutual attraction with Mavis.

There’s not much going on in this movie. The plot sort of zig-zags around stuff involving Jonathan and Dracula building a rapport (in fact, they get to know each other way better than Jonathan and Mavis do), and there are no real stakes or escalations of any sort. When the time comes for someone to take an action that will lead to a lesson being learned, they will take that action, whether it really makes sense or not. There’s a distinct lack of energy in this story.

Luckily, plenty of energy comes from Genndy Tartakovsky’s direction. Tartakovsky, best known as the creator of Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, and Star Wars: Clone Wars, has a special gift for crafting manic character movement that is busy and incredibly fast and yet completely comprehensible. It’s exhilarating to watch the way monsters of various shapes and sizes interact with one another in breathless slapstick. Every character has their own distinct body language that speaks volumes about their personalities, from Dracula’s theatrical fluidity to Jonathan’s laid back slouch-walk. The voice acting, full of Sandler’s Happy Madison regulars, is merely serviceable in comparison.

While the plot tells a bland “parents must let go of their children” message by way of a premise that combines Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo, in the process, it also stumbles upon some commentary about cultural perceptions of monsters. There is nothing scary about these ghouls and creatures, and the film doesn’t try to make them scary in the least. A peek into the outside world shows that people no longer go after vampires and mummies with torches and pitchforks, that they revere them instead. It’s something of an insight – we’ve defanged that which used to terrify us. I wish I could give the film credit for this theme, but since it also makes fun of Twilight in a rather hypocritical way, I suspect that it’s purely accidental.

Hotel Transylvania isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, and while that sounds like damning-with- faint praise, the truth is that it wouldn’t be a waste of time to go see it. The 3D didn’t impress me, but 3D never impresses me. Kids will most assuredly love it, but kids will love anything. More importantly, you probably won’t hate it.