Spoiler alert: it sucks worse than a vampire.
Because my daughter wanted to see this movie–a lot–I took her to the theater on its second weekend. I like the first movie. It’s funny and clever, and has an interesting premise, plus relatable and amusing characters. The story, about handling grief and learning to let your kids live their own lives, worked well. on top of that, it has good music.
In short, I went into the movie with relatively high expectations.
As I sat there, not finding any of the jokes terribly funny, I couldn’t quite figure out what about the movie made it so awful. It took chatting with friends for me to realize what failed so horribly to make it a bad movie. The biggest problem? Female character agency, or the lack thereof. It also suffers from an off-key sense of humor and lousy soundtrack, but how Mavis is treated and depicted far outstrips that stuff as a serious impediment to my enjoyment.
The movie opens with the expected wedding, which is cliche, but fine. It’s a reasonable introduction to Jonathan’s family. It then presents an unnecessary scene in which Mavis reveals she’s pregnant to Drac, presumably just so we can have a sledgehammer tell us that he likes hanging out with Mavis and is excited to become a grandpa. Then there’s the–also unnecessary and irrelevant–obligatory hospital waiting room scene.
After that, we finally get to the bulk of the movie. It’s central conflict is that Dennis, or Dennisivitch as Drac insists upon calling him, hasn’t grown his vampire fangs yet at the age of 5. Mavis is portrayed as attached to Dennis to the detriment of her relationship with Jonathan. Which is all fine. Here’s where it all goes wrong.
Since Dennis doesn’t seem to be a vampire, Mavis thinks she and Jonathan should take him to where his family lives so he can grow up with humans instead of monsters. Drac doesn’t want her to leave–obviously, because he’s still quite attached to her. Jonathan doesn’t want to leave because he likes living at the hotel. At some point, he says he’s finally found a place he can be himself. To Drac, not Mavis.
Because they’re men and they know better, they hatch a plan to prove to Mavis how wrong she is. This plan involves two parts. Part 1: Jonathan takes her to visit his family so she can see how awful it is there. Part 2: Drac tries to coax Dennis’s fangs out, because obviously the kid is jut a “late fanger”.
Without spoiling the movie too much, the end result is that Mavis is wrong and the men who knew better are right. Her mothering instincts are portrayed as ridiculous, wrong, and/or excessively obsessive. Drac is shown as the good guy no matter what he does, and this movie misses the mark on making it clear that he’s flawed, especially because of the fight scene towards the end.
Grandpa Vlad is a bit character voiced by Mel Brooks who seems to have been tossed in just to have an excuse to use Mel Brooks and make Jonathan’s parents dress up like zombies. Because that’s funny, I guess. Vlad’s emotional transformation is sudden and bizarre.
In another point of female characters being handled poorly, Jonathan’s mom is given the cliched personality of the mom who just wants everyone to get along and not question anyone’s lifestyle choices while his dad is the voice of reason and pragmatism. Mom tries to brush off anything weird with the “not that there’s anything wrong with that” trope while dad kind of rolls his eyes. Me too, Jonathan’s Dad. Me too. Only at the whole movie.
There are only three other women in the story of note. One is that obnoxious little old lady who eats everything and then disclaims responsibility. Another is the Fran Drescher-voiced Bride of Frankenstein’s Monster, who has no noticeable impact on the story or good jokes. The third is a weird monster thing that falls for one of Jonathan’s relatives by grabbing and kissing him, leaving lipstick all over his head.
Watching stories like this one makes me think more about the roles of women in my own stories. It’s important to not render anyone into caricatures and stereotypes, especially not major characters. More than that, if the entire story revolves around proving how wrong a woman is, unless that woman is genuinely the bad guy, you’re doing it wrong.