The third entry in Sony Pictures' kids' films about animated monsters is fun, flighty and surprisingly layered, with solid jokes and a heartwarming message.
I was more than a little ambivalent about the third installment of the Hotel Transylvania series. While I enjoy the franchise, and thought the sequel was better than the original, movies where Adam Sandler goes on cruises are notoriously bad (Jack and Jill is one of the worst Hollywood films I’ve ever watched, and Going Overboard – Sandler’s film debut – is an infamous stinker). Needless to say, I was a bit worried. Luckily, that worry was unfounded: Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is a very enjoyable film.
While the film takes place shortly after Hotel Transylvania 2, it opens in 1897, with Dracula (Adam Sandler) being pursued by his arch-nemesis, Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan). Despite his best efforts, Van Helsing is unable to defeat Drac, but vows to never stop until he rids the world of Dracula and all monsters. Flash forward to the present, where Dracula runs the eponymous hotel with his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), son-in-law Jonathan (Andy Samberg), and grandson Dennis (Asher Blinkoff). Despite the hotel’s success, Dracula is feeling depressed over being single (his wife having been killed over 100 years ago by an angry mob). Mistaking his loneliness for being overworked, Mavis books a luxury cruise in the Bermuda Triangle. Initially unenthusiastic about the idea of a cruise, Drac becomes excited once he “zings” (the monster version of love at first sight) with the human captain, Erica (Kathryn Hahn). However, Erica turns out the be the great-granddaughter of Van Helsing (who is kept alive with steampunk technology), and the pair are set to destroy all monsters with an ancient artifact found in the cruise’s destination – Atlantis. However, as Dracula starts to court her, Erica begins to warm up to the Dracula clan. But will love be enough to overcome the Van Helsing’s hatred of monsters?
Fans of the first two films may notice something different about the third installment outside of the setting change: an honest-to-goodness villain! The first film didn’t really have a proper antagonist, and the second only had one show up in the third act. The Van Helsings are a threat for the entire movie (albeit a toothless one until they get to Atlantis). It’s a shame then that the film doesn’t seem very interested in exploring them. Abraham barely shows up in the film, and his relationship with Ericka isn’t explored at all. This is a real missed opportunity, because the theme of tolerance- the overarching theme in the franchise- is best explored in the Van Helsings. Dracula’s initial human prejudice comes from his wife being killed by humans, and only changes when he realizes humans think he’s cool; this implies that prejudice can sometimes be reasonable. Ericka only hates monsters because she was taught to, and her learning that her family was wrong could have been really powerful. Sadly, Ericka’s growth, and her relationship with Drac is only shown in two scenes: a date scene, and a scene where Dracula saves her from ancient traps. It makes Ericka’s inevitable change of heart too sudden, and it turns her into another flat love interest.
Time with the villains is sacrificed to spend time with a bloated cast of extras. In addition to the immediate Dracula family, Mavis apparently also bought tickets for her Grandfather, Vlad (Mel Brooks), and Dracula’s friends: Frankenstein’s monsters and his wife, Eunice (Kevin James and Fran Drescher); the werewolves Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (Molly Shannon), plus their pups; invisible people Griffin (David Spade) and Crystal (Chrissy Teigen); Murray the Mummy (Keegan Michael-Key); and Blobby (director Genndy Tartakovsky). While I understand that part of the appeal of the franchise is its status as a monster mash, and the cast has great chemistry, the monsters don’t get much to do besides crack jokes and mistake Ericka’s homicidal obsession with Dracula for romance. Similarly, Mavis, Jonathan, and Dennis are superfluous to the plot: Mavis is suspicious of Ericka, and uneasy about her dad dating, but nothing comes of it, and neither Jonathan nor Dennis contribute anything to the plot until the end of the movie.
That said, the movie’s enjoyability comes from its comedy rather than its story, and here it doesn’t disappoint. Tartakovsky and co-writer Michael McCuller’s “joke-a-minute” philosophy for the script gets tiresome at times, but a good portion of the jokes land. While there are some decent witticisms, the most successful humor is either situational (Dracula’s disastrous results with a Tindr clone), slapstick (Ericka’s attempts to murder Dracula end up hurting Blobby) or sight gags (the Bermuda Triangle is an indented triangle in the ocean). In the Hotel Transylvania mythos, Atlantis was an advanced monster civilization that has been turned into a humorously tacky casino. The jokes are varied and fresh – while it’s not always comedy gold, there’s plenty of consistent laughs here.
Despite the overabundance of characters, the game cast manages to give each character a distinct personality and sense of humor. Sandler’s Dracula is fun and energetic, but still able to convey Drac’s vulnerable side. Ericka can switch from professional friendliness to duplicitous disgust with ease. Of the supporting cast, Buscemi and Shannon’s werewolf parents, who revel in their newfound freedom when they drop their kids off at daycare, are particular standouts. As is the case with the best ensembles (even in an animated film where one presumes they spent most of their time sequestered in VO booths), the cast plays off each other like a real group of friends.
Honestly, writing a review for this movie is a futile endeavor – the parents taking their kids to Hotel Transylvania 3 are less concerned with the filmmaking than if they can stand to watch it multiple times, and if it imparts a good message. To the former, I say yes; it’s hardly a masterpiece, but adults can enjoy this film. But the latter is also true: Hotel Transylvania 3 tells children not to be afraid of people who are different. And most importantly, it tells film critics not to be afraid of Adam Sandler on cruise ships.
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation boards theaters on July 13th.