Movies aimed largely at children can be a mixed bag; yes, certain companies like Disney/Pixar and Illumination seem to have the formula mostly figured out, but even these companies have misses from time to time. If the jokes are too juvenile, there’s the risk of losing the younger kids’ attention, particularly on repeat viewings; if the jokes are too adult, then the younger crowd may not “get it” and be as entertained as they could be. It’s a fine line – a line that certain films have walked incredibly well, and one that other movies have tripped over and fallen flat on their proverbial face.
The ‘Hotel Transylvania’ film series has, so far, toed the aforementioned line fairly well. While not exactly ground-breaking in the comedy department, the first two films have managed to effectively turn classic “scary monsters” into family-friendly fare, with pretty positive messages about self-image and acceptance coming from the stories to boot. the third entry, ‘Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,’ takes the action out of the all-monster hotel in which the first two films were set and puts the characters into a more fish-out-of-water situation.
The monsters – a very “rogue’s gallery” lineup of folks like Dracula (Adam Sandler), Murray aka The Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), Frankenstein (Kevin James), the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), the Invisible Man (David Spade), and more – are taken out of their dark-and-stormy-yet-comfy confines of the Transylvanian hotel they run when Dracula’s daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), decides that her Dad needs a break and books them all a lovely Caribbean cruise. With Mavis’ human husband, Johnny (Andy Samberg), and their son Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), the monsters are enjoying their cruise – up until the moment they realize that the ship’s captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), is the great-granddaughter of infamous monster hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), who is also onboard (and alive, thanks to cryogenic technology) and is using the guise of the all-monster cruise to finally destroy his enemies once and for all.
The jokes are mostly predictable but still manage to be mostly funny as well. Dracula continues to struggle with his phone and technology in general; the Wolfman and his wife have waaay too many kids; the Invisible Man and his new invisible girlfriend have comedic mishaps because no one can see them; you get the gist. On the cruise itself, a trio of witches take to ogling Vlad, Dracula’s even-more-ancient father (played with sorely-underused aplomb by comedic legend Mel Brooks). It’s a little awkward for parents who know why the witches are getting all hot and bothered, but most of it seemed to go over the head of my 8-year-old daughter who accompanied me to the press screening. The “twist” about Ericka being a Van Helsing is anything but, so much so, in fact, that it was actually used in some of the previews and promo spots for the film, making me wonder why they tried for a “big reveal” moment in the movie at all.
One thing you can say for the ‘Hotel Transylvania’ series – the voice talent is impressive, and lots of celebrities have joined in the making of the film series. ‘Summer Vacation’ sees the return of primary voice talent Sandler, Gomez, Sandberg, James, Buscemi, Key, Spade, and Brooks, as noted earlier; also returning are Molly Shannon, Fran Drescher, and Chris Parnell. Newcomers for this installment include Hahn, Gaffigan, Chrissy Teigen, and Joe Jonas. Genndy Tartakovsky returns to direct this film, as he did with the first two as well, and he injects his usual flair for bright animation and exciting scenes. Tartakovsky co-wrote this installment with ‘Austin Powers’ writer Michael McCullers; in interviews, Tartakovsky has said that he was inspired not only to return to direct this film (he had previously said after ‘Hotel Transylvania 2‘ that he would not be back to the franchise) but also for the plot of the movie after suffering through a particularly unpleasant family vacation of his own. Art imitates life, people!
When it’s all said and done, ‘Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation’ is almost assuredly not going to break any box office records or reinvent how children’s comedy is done on the silver screen. It is, however, an enjoyable enough way to kill 97 minutes, especially with your children: the movie ends on a very positive note about, as Murray the Mummy puts it, “being greater than the haters,” and working to be accepting of people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and (misguided) opinions & ideas. The fact that we as a society even have to keep repeating this moral so adamantly is possibly the scariest thing in the whole film.