Respectful to the Past: Genndy Tartakovsky on Hotel Transylvania and Popeye

Getting new Adam Sandler songs for his latest movie and the tricky part of adapting Popeye to a modern setting.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


We sure got a lot of Genndy Tartakovsky this summer. We were among the first to see footage from Hotel Transylvania and interview Tartakovsky at Sony Pictures Animation. Then we caught up with him again at Comic Con, where we broke news about his Popeye film. Here is the rest of our Comic Con interview about Hotel Transylvania, the defunct Dark Crystal sequel and “Clone Wars.”


CraveOnline: What will fans of “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Samurai Jack” see of Genndy Tartakovsky in Hotel Transylvania?

Genndy Tartakovsky: I think they’ll see the fun of it and I think the filmmaking, the way we shot it is very similar to “Jack” and to “Dexter.” Even though it’s so different, but it still has that same feeling. There’s an energy to it and a tone to it. I think that’s why it’s successful so far, that the movie has an energy and it’s funny and it’s over the top. I think that’s it’s unique voice.


There are three songs in the movie. Is that a mandate for animation?

No, it’s just how it happened. I think we never thought of it at all going into it and then just the way the story unfolded, one of the story things I thought of was what if the monsters, Dracula and his friends, all have a band together but Dracula never wants to play anymore? We kind of wove that into the story and it turned out to be great so I think the songs came in organically. There’s no mandate anymore that animation has to have songs in it.


What is the musical style of their band?

Well, first we kind of started folk and then it kind of got a little rock-y. It goes all over the gamut.


Who wrote those songs?

I think Adam and Robert Smiegel wrote most of them.


So it’s new Adam Sandler music!



Would you ever consider doing animation for 3D television?

Oh, maybe yeah. It would have to be the right project. The thing about 3D is it definitely is a different medium. We’re making two movies at the same time which we should be doing, but right now you’re kind of making a half 2D movie/half 3D movie. So for television, I think it’s definitely something interesting.


Learning what you have working on Hotel Transylvania, can you imagine how you’d apply 3D to a TV schedule?

Yeah, I think it’s just the type of stories and the type of shots. 3D is really about the staging, the way you stage it, things look better. Floating things look really good. Things going away on the ground floor look really good, so I think learning all that, we could totally do something really interesting.


What was your connection to all the monsters growing up as a kid?

I think them being funny. I know that’s weird to say but as a kid, I was afraid of monsters and I was afraid of scary movies because I didn’t want to be scared. I didn’t like that feeling. So I watched movies like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Love at First Bite with George Hamilton and of course Young Frankenstein. So I knew all the monsters in more of a comedic way, or even Laurel and Hardy and the Mummy and stuff like that. So I think my sensibilities came from that. For me, doing this movie was the easiest jump because that was my framework for all the monsters was comedies.


Could Hotel Transylvania be that for a new generation of kids?

I definitely hope so. I think it definitely can. There’s an innocence and fun to it that the kids can like the monsters as being fun relatives really.


How close to an accurate Transylvania could you get or did you want to get?

Well, we took a trip. It was before my time but they went to Transylvania and saw Dracula’s castle and all these things, so that foundation was important. For me it was more about translating what people think as the icon of Transylvania. It was more about the castle and the village. Nowadays it’s so different but the way we treated it is if you go to Transylvania in our world, it would be like a tourist town.


So you inherited that research and design?

A little bit. I definitely tweaked it but there was a little bit that I inherited.


Right after we did our first interview, the next day or maybe even later that afternoon you announced Popeye.

That’s right.


Is that also with Sony Animation?

It is, yeah. I signed a two picture type of thing with them where it’ll be one of my originals and Popeye, see whatever one goes first.


Is Popeye your dream project as an animator?

It’s not but it’s something that I definitely loved it when I was growing up. It’s definitely a foundation of I think my style of animation. The thing that really won me over was they talked to me about Popeye and I said, “Well, I want to do it as a physical animated project that really emphasizes the physicality of animation.” They were totally on board for that. I always wanted to make a movie that relies on physical humor rather than dialogue humor, so they were super supportive of it.


By physical, is that still 3D CG animation?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s more about the comedy coming from not a line of dialogue but somebody falling or if you can imagine Olive Oil sleepwalking on roofs and Popeye’s trying to catch her, and all the funny jokes that come out of that.


Will you keep it in the period of the original Popeye?

I don’t know, that’s going to be the most challenging part about it is how to contemporize it. You don’t want to put Popeye in a baseball hat and sunglasses and gym shoes, but at the same time he can’t be a pipe smoking sailor. That would be the challenge of how to make it today but still be authentic and complementary, respectful to the past.


Do you think you’d use a name voice, or just someone who can do Popeye?

That I don’t know yet. I don’t know. Ideally it’ll just be whoever’s got the best voice.


What was your work on the potential Dark Crystal sequel?

Mm, so I was working with Lisa Henson, with the Hensons and we wanted to do this adventure puppet movie. I was really excited about it and we worked with the Odells who wrote the original Dark Crystal. And we were really close and then budgetarily we were a few million short and just couldn’t ever put it together. Then it just kind of faded away but we were close at one point.


Could that have been a direct sequel or just another adventure in the world of The Dark Crystal?

It was more of an adventure in that world than a “sequel” sequel for sure.


It seems like Henson fans are either Team Dark Crystal or Team Labyrinth. I’m really into Labyrinth. Why was Dark Crystal the one you gravitated towards?

I don’t know, it was just what they were into at the time. So to them I think I seemed like the right fit for it, and Dark Crystal, just the idea of a puppet movie in today’s CG world was really exciting because I feel like what you could do with it could be great.


Last time we also talked about your work on “Clone Wars” and why you decided not to be involved with Star Wars for 20 years. Could your version of the series continue in comic book form maybe?

Oh, I don't know. I think they’re very happy with the way it’s going, so I doubt they’ll ever turn back and go back to the way we were going.