Hotel Transylvania 2 picks up where the first one left off. Dracula’s daughter, Mavis, married a human (aka a non-monster), Jonathan, and they had a son which brings both families together, vying, not only for their grandchild’s affection, but also for his future. In this absurd world where monsters are real (but not really scary), they are able to poke some fun (with some serious undertones) at the various prejudices and challenges we face in coming together and loving and accepting our fellow man (and monster). Because of that, there are a lot of great conversations to be had coming out of this movie, for adults and children alike.
Monsters and humans don’t like each other, probably because, throughout history, they have both been trying to kill each other, whether out of fear, self-defense, misunderstandings or actual intention. Mavis and Jonathan however, in their inter-racial marriage, challenged the norm. It was the first step. Like most changes, however, it was going to take more than one step, and little baby Dennis was going to reveal to everyone just how much more they had to learn. Because he was part vampire and part human, there was some question as to whether or not little Dennis would have vampire powers. Dracula may have thought he was OK with humans—after all, he’d let his own daughter marry one and was accepting human guests at his hotel—but when it came to his grandson, he realized he wasn’t as progressive as he had thought. In fact, both sets of grandparents were very much wanting their grandson to be as they were.
And, as babies do, they brought out the more distant relatives. So, while Drac’s immediate family may have grown in their acceptance of others, his extended family wasn’t necessarily on board yet… Vlad, Drac’s father came to visit. If Drac was a little old school, Vlad was hard core. It’s a typical family…and as with most families, the older generations are usually the more set in their ways, the least progressive, the most judgmental and/or racial. Rather than seeing that the younger generations are being more loving, the temptation is to feel they are being softer, that they lack conviction or a moral compass. So it was that Vlad expressed his disappointment in his son who would let humans into their lives, while Mavis was challenging her dad to go even further. “Maybe you let humans into your hotel, Dad, but I don’t think you’ve let them into your heart.” Drac was caught in the middle, trying to decide what was right.
Poor Drac wasn’t only challenged with the issue of humans and his prejudices, but also with modernity in general. Johnny was teaching him about technology, trying to modernize his methods…and Mavis was a modern parent, constantly asking her father to do things differently than what he had done with her (singing sweet lullabies instead of monster scary ones, eating organic, staying on a human schedule instead of a nocturnal monster one, etc.) And Drac wasn’t catching on…at… all…
Change is hard.
To his credit though, Drac was trying. And eventually, he did grow and he did learn. And his grandson turned out to be a vampire after all, so all was well.
So, how do we use this for conversation? Certainly, there is much here for adults. The monster/human tensions easily hint at racial, religious and sexual orientation tensions, to name a few, which we find so prevalent in our current society. Not to mention the generational tensions as the older generations often feel disrespected as the younger ones challenge and change things. (And to be clear, the younger generations aren’t always right, and usually go to extremes, throwing out the baby with the bathwater.) But what about for kids? It’s a kids’ movie, after all. How do we have good conversations with them using this movie?
We can surely ask them questions about why monsters and people didn’t like each other, and who was right. And why don’t people like other people in real life? And what can we do about it. Those are important conversations, but I fear it becomes just another message of tolerance. As a Christian, how do we find the balance between teaching our children (and even ourselves) to love our neighbor, but also have standards about what we think are right and wrong behaviors? Are we supposed to tolerate a monster who eats people, for example? Wayne, a werewolf said, “We don’t need to kill anymore; we have pop-tarts!” Kind of funny, but a message of tolerance from the humans towards a werewolf who still ate humans would be ridiculous. Since they now eat pop tarts, instead of humans, is there any remaining concern about them still being a werewolf/monster? Is there any concern with teaching our kids tolerance without caution? Are all monsters in our world truly harmless such that we should simply accept them? Surely not. We still have a need for the “stranger danger” message.
I’m concerned that our tolerance messages have gone too far. They tell us that we should all just live and let live. We are told “not to judge.” But that’s a bit misleading—we aren’t supposed to ever judge anything??? I disagree. I think we should make wise judgements about things, but that’s just it…about things, about actions. What I can judge is whether or not I think an action is acceptable. What I can’t judge is why someone did it. I can’t judge a person’s heart or motive (that is God’s job), but I can confidently hold up the standard of behavior that God gave us in His Word and say whether or not actions (my own as well as others’) seem to be in accord (that, actually is our job).
So, if Wayne decided to eat a human it would be right for Dennis and his parents to say that it was wrong. They might sympathize with his desires, understand that his nature craved a human breakfast, but still say that it was wrong to eat a human when a pop tart was handy. Not only that, but it would be wise for them to encourage some healthy caution around Wayne, lest Dennis become his next meal.
The balance is a hard one to find. It’s hard enough to do on our own, even harder to communicate it to our children. Not letting fear rule your judgment about people, but also not being blind to dangers. Choosing to see and hope for the best in people, to give them opportunities at redemption, even, to overlook what is different, but also being discerning and wise enough not to be hurt by them. Recognizing when differences are just differences and accepting them, but also knowing when they are dangerous or hurtful or wrong, and being able to stand for truth and what is right… NONE of this is easy. But I think, at the core of it, what makes it all even possible, is love. If we love people we can hope for the best. If we love them, we are willing to overlook what doesn’t matter. We are willing to risk being vulnerable with them. Love also means that we care enough to speak truth when someone is wrong. It means that we see people as they truly are, not only as we wish they could be, and love them anyway. It allows us to care enough to want and even fight for the best for them. Love is so far beyond tolerance. It’s so much better…for all involved.
So, maybe instead of talking about “tolerance” with your children, the discussion follows more along the lines of Jesus’ heart for people. Not tolerating them, for Jesus never calls us to simply tolerate someone, but to love them—for that is the call of Jesus. So what does love look like…in this movie, and in real life? What does it look like toward people who are different from us? What does it even look like toward people who are dangerous and bad? Because sometimes the monsters in our world are really no different than Drac and Wayne, harmless and a bit comical—monsters only because of labels put on them. Other times, however, the monsters in our world are very real, very dangerous and very evil… And we need to know how to respond to both with the grace and love and wisdom of Christ…and to teach our children how to do the same.
Questions for Discussion:
- Why didn’t monsters and humans like each other? Is it hard to forgive and forget the past sometimes?
- Was there a good reason (anymore) for humans and monsters to hate each other?
- Is tolerating someone the same as loving them? Which does Jesus ask us to do?
- How did Drac sometimes tolerate humans, but show that he didn’t really yet fully love and accept them?
- Did anyone act like Jesus in this movie? Who and how?
- Is it possible to love someone and not “tolerate” or “accept” things that they do?
- Were there times when someone had to love someone else without “tolerating” or “agreeing” with their behavior?
- Drac wasn’t bad like people thought he was. Do you know anyone who people have said things about that aren’t true? What do/can you do about that?
- Are all “monsters” just funny guys who are different (like in the movie) or are there people who really are bad in this world? How do you think you need to treat them? (WWJD?)
- How do you know the difference between bad people and people who really aren’t bad (even though people may think they are)?