It doesn’t have the cache of a Pixar production, or even the billion dollar grosses of the Despicable Me series, but the Hotel Transylvania franchise has quietly become one of the more dependable brands in modern movie animation. Its humble reputation could have something to do with its relatively modest aims; these charming, silly, and dynamically illustrated cartoons harken back to an earlier age dominated by the Looney Tunes and their brand of physical comedy and squash and stretch animation. These films aim straight for kids (and the eternally immature) and largely hit the mark for their target audience.

The Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation cast is largely the same from the previous installments; the setting is the primary difference this time. Mavis (Selena Gomez) the 126-year-old daughter of Count Dracula (Adam Sandler), decides her father is overworked at the family’s hotel for monsters and needs a vacation. So the whole extended family — including Mavis’ human husband Johnny (Andy Samberg), their son Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), and Drac’s friends Frankenstein (Kevin James), Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), Wayne the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi), and Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade) — decamp to a special monster cruise to the lost city of Atlantis through the Bermuda Triangle.

The main obstacle to their happiness is Ericka Van Helsing (Kathryn Hahn), the captain of the cruise. Unbeknownst to the monsters, Van Helsing carries on her family’s legacy of vampire hunting, and her attempts to seduce Dracula are actually part of a plan to lure him into a trap and finally avenge her great-grandfather, Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan).

Hotel Transylvania 3
Sony Pictures Animation

Co-writer/director Genndy Tartakovsky, who also directed on both of the previous Hotel Transylvania movies, supposedly drew inspiration for his screenplay (written with Austin Powers’ Michael McCullers) from a real cruise vacation, and while I assume some of the incidents here are fiction (like the giant dog who sneaks onto the ship by disguising himself with a hat and trenchcoat), the frustrations and pleasures of a real family outing are embedded in the film’s incidents. I responded very strongly to Buscemi and Molly Shannon’s overworked, glassy-eyed werewolf parents, who dump their dozens of children off in the ship’s Kids Club” and are too exhausted from the rigors of werewolf rearing to do anything but mumble “We can do whatever we want!” over and over.

Tartakovsky’s high-energy visual style, honed over decades working on series like Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, and Samurai Jack, is also in ample evidence in Hotel Transylvania 3, particularly in the movements of Dracula, who bends, leans, shrugs, and dances like a living rubber band that’s moved beyond mortal concerns like physics and gravity (as a vampire, I guess he has). There’s something refreshingly old school about his wacky body language, which is in stark contrast to the more realistic, less hyperbolic style of most 3-D movie animation in 2018.

Sandler’s silly Dracula voice, a combination of Bela Lugosi and his pal (and former Hotel Transylvania writer) Robert Smigel’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, is funny too. It’s also nice to learn after 20 years of watching Sandler that his trademark brand of gibberish is, in fact, Transylvanian. (Whenever Drac makes goo-goo eyes at Ericka, he can’t help but talk in, uh, “Transylvanian.”)

Sony Pictures Animation

The’re not a lot of momentum to Hotel Transylvania 3; this is a children’s film after all. But the character and location designs are inventive and appealing, and there are several memorable set pieces, including a wordless scuba diving sequence that draws heavy inspiration from classic Warner Bros. cartoons. (I also enjoyed Chris Parnell’s droll talking fish with human feet — there’s no other way to describe him — who serves a variety of tasks on the cruise ship.) And while the ending of the film is obvious, the method Dracula and his family use to defeat the Van Helsings is surprising to say the least. Throughout, the stakes are as low as a pleasant and uncomplicated family vacation. In this case, that feels right.

Additional Thoughts:

-The first Hotel Transylvania had Frankenstein fart jokes. This one has Dracula fart jokes. (Garlic doesn’t agree with his stomach!) Your reaction to that concept will predict whether or not you’ll enjoy this film as a whole.

-I took my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter to the screening with me and now, three days later, she will only acknowledge my presence when I talk like Adam Sandler’s Dracula. So thanks a lot Hotel Transylvania 3. In fact, ignore the rating below: 0/10 would not watch again because you’ve ruined my life.


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