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I heard the story once of a Christian father who called a fellow believer and dad to ask what his friend’s family was doing on Oct. 31. One dad was taking his family trick-or-treating. The other was taking the kids to a movie.

When the conversation ended, both dads hung up the phone disappointed in their friend for “backsliding” – one believing Halloween to be evil; the other thinking the same of Hollywood.

Are either inherently wicked? Probably not, but a film like “Hotel Transylvania” is nearly enough to convince me both dads may be right after all. Blech.

The film, while occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and not nearly as occult-laden as it could have been, is nonetheless a perfect example of what’s wrong with too much of the “family” fare coming out of Hollywood.

The movie’s central storyline is that Count Dracula has kept his daughter, Mavis, sheltered, even trapped, in a hidden castle – the Hotel Transylvania – to keep her “safe” from humans. In 118 years, the poor girl has never left her gilded cage, until one day a backpacking human steps into the hotel and not only disrupts the safe haven for monsters, but manages to steal Mavis’ heart.

The movie’s primary motivation is Mavis’ desire to be loosed from her father’s obsessive, overprotective ways and discover the world for herself, to find her own happiness.

“I always thought the worst thing ever would be seeing you go,” the repentant Count Dracula tells her at the end of the film. “But the worst thing is to see you unhappy.”

In the end, Count Dracula is moved by the fact that Mavis and the human shared a brief moment of romantic rapture; they “zinged,” to use the film’s terminology for love at first sight; and as all the monsters know, “You only ‘zing’ once in your life,” so you simply must chase after that “zing.”

While on one hand, introspective parents might discern a lesson in not allowing our inner angst and wounded pasts to overshadow doing what’s best for our children … but is that the lesson kids who go to this movie will learn?

I doubt it.

I don’t think most tots are astute enough to draw that moral from a film filled with so many others: namely, that parents are overprotective fools in need of their children’s correction, a child’s happiness as the highest goal of life and the path to that happiness found in a romanticist “whatever feels right” ethic called “zinging.”

It’s nothing but juvenile, sophomoric slop: If it feels good do it, seek your pleasure over all and ignore your stupid parents’ rules, for they don’t actually want what’s best for you, they’re just working out their own “issues” vicariously through you. Pfft! Who needs them? Especially when you have “zing!”

How do such messages – dressed up in cartoon clothing or not – actually build up families? Encourage children toward wisdom and maturity and fulfillment?

And I haven’t even addressed the movie’s Wolfman, who has so many unruly children, he bemoans their very existence.

“Kids!” he scolds them when they disrupt the hotel’s clientele. “You’re only supposed to make your parents miserable!”

Are you sure this is a “family” film? Or a Hollywood Halloween horror show illustrating everything that’s wrong with our foolish society?

Let me suggest families seek films that teach wisdom instead, where children learn lessons in selflessness, humility and delayed gratification for the greater good, where the story celebrates heroism and redemption and making the right choices. Perhaps a movie where parents and families, though flawed, are still esteemed and honored.

Want a spooky movie that teaches these kinds of values? Let me suggest this year’s “Brave” instead, and avoid checking into “Hotel Transylvania.”

Content advisory:

  • “Hotel Transylvania,” rated PG, contains neither profanity nor obscenity.
  • The film has only some minor sexuality, including a few kisses, some shirtless male characters and a couple of gag lines (about “naked” skeletons, for example) and a pair of fleas on their honeymoon. There are, however, more than a few juvenile jokes about various characters’ butts, enough to seem just a bit fixated and distracting.
  • The film contains a moderate level of cartoon, humorous violence, as characters smack, chase, crash and land on various other characters. The film’s most disturbing scene is the retelling of how Dracula’s wife dies, a scene with an angry mob, and we see her hand fall to the ground (implying her death). There are a few moments when the monster element may be a bit frightening. As a “monster” movie, the film is also filled with all kinds of gross-out references, like worm pancakes or eating mice, and it relies heavily on the childish booger, butt, fart, poop and vomit jokes.
  • The film is loaded with traditionally horror or occult characters – such as witches, zombies and vampires – but they are depicted merely as different species of critter, without any spell-casting or other occult symbols. Some of the characters do have magical powers, but these again, aren’t explained or conjured. The film, for a Halloween monster movie, seems remarkably sensitive to Christian sensibilities about occult references. The only exception, however, are the little idioms the Draculas use, like, “My little devil chops,” or, “Holy rabies!” or, “My little voodoo doll.”

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