Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review of Hotel Transylvania

I know it's a cartoon, but it has vampires, Frankenstein, and the invisible man, how could we possibly resist?  Count Dracula builds a hotel - a retreat if you will where monsters can be safe from the threat that human pose to their existence. He builds this hotel to honour a promise to his dead wife to keep their daughter Mavis safe.  For 118 years he watches over Mavis and runs his hotel until she decides that she wants to see the real world.  Count Dracula is not at all pleased and even builds a fake town and fills it with zombies to convince Mavis that the real world is a dangerous place and that humans will suck her toes.

Both Mavis and the Count return to Hotel Transylvania, where the count his happy until her realises that a human has found his way to the hotel. Johnathon is the very first human to enter the premises and his very existence put the reputation of the hotel in danger. The Count dresses him up and asserts that he is Frankenstein's cousin.  That's right, Johnathon is introduced as being related to Frankenstein's left hand.  Even with the disguise, Johnathon's ideas make him a threat to the count and this only increases when it becomes clear that Mavis has feelings for him.  Somehow, the count must rid his hotel and keep his daughter safe from the human.

Essentially, Hotel Transylvania is the story of an over protective father, willing to do anything to keep his daughter safe - by safe, I of course mean under his control.  What is good about this is that Mavis does not stop asserting her desire to see the world.  Mavis knows what she wants out of life and is determined to get it.  For all of her inexperience, she knows that there has to be more to life than the stories her father has told her and when Johnathon tells her about the places he has been, she becomes determined to leave the hotel.

Johnathon is the sole representation of humanity in this movie and of course he is White, male, straight, cisgender and able bodied.   Nothing represents humanity like a White guy.  Now, where have I seen humanity represented as completely White before? Ah yes, The Bee movie. Complete erasure in the media, let alone cartoons, is an everyday occurrence but when it comes to cartoons, because they are targeted at children, we are not supposed to ruin their innocence and actively critique them. Heaven forbid that little White kids grow up to learn about their privilege and kids of colour learn that their erasure is wrong.  Nope, that would be a critical discussion and everyone knows that active and engaged thought is not a habit we want kids to pick up. After all, their innocence is at stake.

I probably could have dealt with the Johnathon as the sole representative of humanity if the writers had not used the R-Word.  RACISM.  It's a loaded word isn't it? It's certainly presented as such each and every time a person of colour uses it.  Either we are lying about our lived experiences, or we are exaggerating to try to drum up sympathy and play upon White guilt. What I learned from Hotel Transylvania is that White men can indeed be the victim of racism.  WOW, who knew about the pain of reverse racism. I suppose you learn something everyday.

When the Count tries to usher Johnathon out of his hotel because he is a human and humans have a history of attacking monsters, Johnathon labels his reaction racism.  Monsters are racist and in fact, Johnathon refers to it as such twice, just in case you missed the message the first time.  Of course, when the Count sees the error of his ways, he corrects the controlling manner in which he was treating Mavis; however, it affirms that he has been racist to Johnathon.  The fact that the count apologises to Johnathon, solidifies the suggestion that the right label was used.

I sat there stunned wondering why this concept was even introduced in the film.  Would it not have been enough to have Johnathon point out that the Count's feelings were problematic?  I think what makes it worse is that all of the Count's experiences were swept aside to present a narrative which suggests that much the world has changed and there is no need for monsters to be afraid of humans despite centuries of obvious hatred.  Hotel Transylvania essentially meant for the Count to be juxtaposed to a person of colour, even though the character itself is White, in order to present the idea that humanity (read: Whiteness) has changed and that it is the silly backward monsters (read:people of colour) who have not let bygones be bygones, causing the problem today.

This is exactly why it's important to teach children to think critically from a very early age.  How many kids sat in the theaters and watched this movie and internalised it's messages.  Certainly, when it comes to gender, Hotel Transylvania has a positive message to send because Mavis continually asserts the right to her own life but when it comes to race, it doesn't just fail, it fails spectacularly.  There are no other characters of colour to contradict Johnathon's definition of what racism is and so the message goes unchallenged.  Hotel Transylvania is just another claiming innocence and a goal of entertaining children while it sends a harmful message to at least some of whom are watching.  If you're going to introduce the subject of racism, then it deserves far more respect than the shoddy treatment it received in this movie.