Sony Pictures Animation may have yet to find its footing, but it appears they have found a worthy franchise in the “Hotel Transylvania” series. After offering successful entries in 2012 and 2015 Dracula and his family and crew returned to the big screen this weekend in “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation”. The first two movies in the series did lack a bit of substance but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the second improved on the first and the third looked promising to improve on its predecessors itself. So does this third film in the franchise continue the trend of improved quality for the series or has “Hotel Transylvania” finally warn out its welcome? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” picks up a few months after the previous film. In a flashback to 1897 we’re introduced to Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) a legendary monster hunter and rival to Dracula whose plans are foiled over and over again. In the present day Hotel Transylvania is flourishing but the increased business has left Dracula (Adam Sandler) without the time to appreciate his family and friends or sooth his increasing loneliness. Hoping to help her father escape his funk, Dracula’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her husband Johnny (Adam Samberg) organize a cruise vacation for the whole gang. Once on board they meet the captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn) who Dracula “Zings” with causing him to fall madly in love. Unbeknownst to Dracula and his friends Ericka is actually the great granddaughter of Van Helsing and has put together a plot to destroy all the monster aboard her ship at the lost city of Atlantis.
I have to admit that the “Hotel Transylvania” movies are not my favorite. I could take or leave the first two but obviously Sony has hit on something special with this particular franchise. This third movie seems to have finally found a good footing for the series as Sony, along with returning director Genndy Tartakovsky who also made the first two films and shares writing credits on this film, now have a better grasp on where they want this series to go. It shows brightly as “Hotel Transylvania 3” feels more complete and focused than the first two with a well established story that balances both new and old faces nicely. While the first movie felt too confined and the second movie lacked pace and tone this third film takes the action beyond the limitations of the previous entries exploring the world at large while also further developing the concept of the “Zing” and even more completely exploring the racial subtext that the series had failed to commit to despite slightly touching on the issue in the past.
The voice acting and animation are spot on in this threequel with much of the previous cast coming back to portray their characters including Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Keegan-Michael Key and others. However new voices are added to the mix with the always entertaining Jim Gaffigan perfectly capturing the personality of this universe’s version of Abraham Van Helsing and Kathryn Hahn bringing to life Van Helsing’s great granddaughter Ericka with attitude, spunk and even some emotional subtext well beyond many of Hahn’s usual roles as a comedic actor. While the voiceovers are great it’s the animation that shines here with plenty of color and a more polished look that, again, shows that Sony and Tartakovsky finally know what they want from this franchise other than quirky character designs and a few one off jokes. It shouldn’t be a shocker considering that Tartakovsky cut his teeth on animated productions like “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Dexter’s Laboratory”. The character details as well as the atmosphere and even right down to the design of the ship are all reminiscent of Tartakovsky’s contributions to televised animation but the computer generated imagery makes these designs feel more fluid and refined. “Hotel Transylvania 3” is simply fun to look at and is the best animated entry of the trio so far simply because escaping the confines of the hotel itself allows the animators more freedom and creative control which was severely lacking in the other two movies.
I also have to say I felt “Hotel Transylvania 3” was the most amusing and fun of the trio. The story feels more focused with the introduction of a true villain this time around and more defined conflicts with real weight behind them. While not ever joke lands, the jokes that due bring sincere chuckles and belly laughs. I’ll touch on how not every attempt at humor lands with this movie soon but it’s worth pointing out that while the bar was set pretty low from the past movies this third film is the most sincerely amusing of the three to date for both adults and children alike. While it has its imperfections that hold it back, some new and some carried over from past films, I feel like “Hotel Transylvania 3” is a big step in the right direction and truly captures a lot of the potential this series had in the first place. This time around it really does feels like the filmmakers learned from the past and made a legitimate effort to build on the franchise and add something new. Every sequel of a series should bring a natural progression and not rest on laurels and while “Hotel Transylvania 3” does commit the later sin to some extent it also manages to accomplish the former with style and, finally, a bit of conviction in what it has to say.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Despite building on the series in several ways “Hotel Transylvania 3” also makes the mistake of leaning too heavily on jokes and crutches from the past. The “blah blah blah” jokes that haunts Dracula makes a return as do the failed attempts at levity associated with Dracula’s friends such as werewolf Wayne’s wife always being pregnant and the inability of the characters to see where they’re touching Griffin the Invisible Man. While I give “Hotel Transylvania 3” credit for adding some new jokes to the mix but not all the new stuff lands. One particular running gag sees a group of witches eyeing Dracula’s father Vlad, played again by Mel Brooks, and the film does nothing with this making if feel like pure filler. It simply feels like a slightly funny joke to legitimize Vlad’s appearance in the film. That’s a reality with most of the bad jokes in this movie. At times the attempts at humor feel inserted simply to justify the existence or involvement of certain characters to give them something to do. Even Johnny feels underused for much of this movie. For all “Hotel Transylvania 3” accomplishes, possibly it’s biggest weakness is a heavy reliance of the series’ own tired humor and forsaking characters big or small as the story progresses. There’s a lot of filler and a lot of moments where the action basically just stops for some quirky antics that add nothing to the narrative.
I also found the climax left a lot to be desired. I get it, this is a kid’s film, but children are smart enough to handle a complex final battle. We’ve seen it. Pixar proved it. But the final battle devolves into nothing more than a music fight using popular tunes to get a laugh and undermine the danger of the scenario at hand. Now this isn’t quite as bad as the first two movies that inserted music into the story with no real purpose or context simply to make you think you had a good time. At least here the music is worked into the plot, but there were much better ways, even for a film targeting kids, to wrap this whole thing up. In fact, there were much COOLER ways to wrap it up. The whole final conflict panders to the connection young viewers make between music, laughter and excitement, an easy go to crutch for any animated movie that shows an unwillingness to trust it’s audience to have fun without being spoon fed. That’s unfortunate too because the movie sports a pretty decent villainous plan, well for kids anyway, which could have made for an awesome final act but the potential of that premise feels wasted when compared to what we got. Then the film doesn’t even take the time to properly lay out the aftermath, wrapping things up quickly once the final fight is over. To put it simply the third act is the movie’s weakest point where “Hotel Transylvania 3” loses it’s way with a rushed ending that could have been much more developed had the filmmakers not wasted so much time on pointless filler earlier on. It all comes down to story management and that has been a long-lasting issue in every movie in this franchise to date even if it’s a little less of a problem in the third movie.
I’d call “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” an improvement. Is it flawless? No, but for a series that really needed something fresh to spice it up this film does the trick. It expands on the ideas of the previous entries and has a more solid premise that commits to it’s underlying lessons and morals much more than the first two ever even tried to. The animation has improved, the voice acting is spot on and for what it’s worth “Hotel Transylvania 3” is a pretty good time if kid-friendly animation is your thing. While it’s not always an improvement on the past, such as the disappointing final confrontation, and it leans heavily on tired older jokes that still fail this third film in the “Hotel Transylvania” franchise does offer some new, effective humor and expands the world of the series beyond the confines of the walls of it’s titular building. As a result we’re given a gorgeously animated feature that far surpasses either of its predecessors even if the bar wasn’t set to high to begin with. It feels like the filmmakers finally know what they want to do with this series and while some may argue that this third movie isn’t necessary I would argue that to some extent its existence finally proves why “Hotel Transylvania” as a franchise deserves more respect than it tends to get.