When triple Emmy-winning animation guru Genndy Tartakovsky put together the final touches for 2015’s Hotel Transylvania 2 he decided he’d had enough of his old pal Count Dracula.
The razor-fanged quincentenarian — that’s Drac, not Tartakovsky — has sucked a bloodcurdling $800 million (Dh2.9 billion) out of global audiences but the sequel, undertaken during a massive North Korean cyber attack on Sony, was gruelling work.
“We’re finishing it. And all the executives are getting fired, and all this ugliness is coming out, and we still have to make a funny, entertaining movie,” the 48-year-old filmmaker said.
Burned out, Tartakovsy announced very publicly that he had no intention of committing to a third movie — and learned an important Hollywood lesson: never say never again.
Having rejected the offer to direct a script he didn’t like, the animator decided during a family cruise off northwestern Mexico that transplanting Drac onto an ocean liner could open up comedy doors.
“Some people love cruising and I don’t. I don’t like to be part of the cattle. I like to just do my own thing,” Tartakovsky said in a recent interview on LA’s Sunset Strip.
“So I had all that, and my in-laws were on the ship, so you were with the family constantly, so all these ideas came.”
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, out in the UAE Thursday, sees the Transylvanian vampire (Adam Sandler) and his Drac Pack enjoying monster volleyball while topping up their moon tans on the SS Legacy.
‘Kids are smart’
It’s plain sailing at first, but the fun turns nightmarish when Drac’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) realises her doting pop has fallen for the secretive, dangerous ship’s captain.
From the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business (1931) through Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011) and this year’s Overboard, the deep blue has always been a reliable comedy backdrop.
“You’re just trapped in a space, all together. So usually good comedy comes from that,” says Tartakovsky, who also took on crytpwriting — sorry, scriptwriting — duties.
The acclaimed creative behind the Cartoon Network’s Star Wars: Clone Wars, Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory has been making children’s comedy for the best part of three decades.
His experience, he says, has taught him that the secret to writing effectively for kids is, well, not to write for kids.
“As soon as you think, ‘Pirates are really popular right now with kids so I’m going to write a pirate movie’... that’s when you’re dead,” he says.
The director sticks to writing what he finds funny, placing trust in his ability to come up with material that youngsters will enjoy too, rather than trying to alter his sense of humour.
“Kids are smart. They pick up on that stuff, when they’re getting talked down to. So you’ve got to talk at that level and hopefully you’ve got a good sensibility that kids think is funny,” he says.
“But I don’t know what a kid thinks is funny to begin with.”
Genndy, who was born to Jewish parents in the Soviet Union, grew up in the US, falling in love with Popeye, Looney Tunes, and Japanese anime.
He got his start at Hanna-Barbera at a time when all the mid-20th century filmmakers were still in place, working on old dinosaurs — pun intended — like The Flintstones.
He attended the California School of Arts, made short animations and went on to make Kurosawa-influenced Samurai Jack, widely regarded as among his and the Cartoon Network’s greatest achievements.
Kids’ television, he says, has broken its shackles to a certain extent and is no longer afraid to be irreverent and odd.
Tartakovsky’s antagonist is the seductress Ericka van Helsing — a character critics have pointed out looks more like a pneumatic Olive Oyl than a conventional beauty.
“We don’t want to just do a generic, beautiful, unoffensive, very nice model face. We wanted to have character and personality as much as Dracula,’” Tartakvsky said.
“There’s this double standard where you can make men ugly and then appealing but all women have to be attractive. So we go, ‘Well we want her to be unique looking because unique is also attractive.’”
Since Tartakovsky has stopped publicly ruling out future work, asking him what answer he would give to a job offer for HT 4 seems rather pointless — but we ask anyway.
“Hah! Same one from HT2,” he says, bursting into raucous laughter.
Don’t miss it
Hotel Transylvania 3 releases in the UAE on July 12.