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HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION (2018) review

July 15, 2018

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written by: Michael McCullers and Genndy Tartakovsky
produced by: Michelle Murdocca and Carey Smith
directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky
rated: PG (for some action and rude humor)
runtime: 97 min.
U.S. release date: June 13, 2018

 

I haven’t been a fan of the two previous “Hotel Transylvania” movies and if caught in a conversation about them I can usually be found bemoaning about their existence as much as your average cinefile will complain about the alleged onslaught of Marvel movies. There should be more complaints about remedial animated features filled with fart jokes, pop culture references and repetitive stereotypes than there is the number of superhero movies released each year. Needless to say, my expectations were quite low for “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” the second sequel from director Genndy Tartakovsky, an artist whose animated work I’ve admired before long before checked in to this annoying vacation spot.

Where other studios have managed to deliver quality sequels that often supersede the original feature (Dreamworks has been killing it with spectacular sequels to “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon”), Sony Pictures Animation has punished us with “Smurf” sequels and these “Hotel Transylvania” movies haven’t been any better. This sequel is using a larger scale than its previous entries and utilizes its location change to increase the silliness and elastic nonsense. That’s commendable, but sadly sheer energy cannot save a movie from its storyline. Tartakovsky and company aren’t necessarily regurgitating what has come before, but what they offer here is primarily cliche running gags, awkward humor that falls flat and, yes, fart jokes – not to mention the irritating choice of songs during a final climax that feels older than, well, Dracula.

 

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“Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” takes place a couple of months after the last movie. I can’t remember what happened in that movie, so you’re on your own. As a gift to her 540-year-old workaholic vampire father, Count Dracula (Adam Sandler), his worrisome 126-year-old daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez) hopes to give him a break from running the titular vacation spot. Without knowledge of where he’s going and out of love for his daughter, a reluctant Dracula agrees to the family trip with his son-in-law, Johnny (Adam Samberg), his grandson, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) and his father, Vlad (Mel Brooks). Of course, they are accompanied by his famous friends: Frank (Kevin James) and his wife, Eunce (Fran Drescher), Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and his wife, Wanda (Molly Shannon), ancient mummy, Murray (Keegan Michael-Key, replacing CeeLo Green) and the invisible man, Griffin (David Spade) with his new girlfriend, Crystal (Chrissy Teigen). Rounding out the crew is the green gelatinous, Blobby (Tartakovsky), which makes it seem less like an escape from normal surroundings and more like an excuse to add a change of geography for the same characters as well as the animators. It’s unclear who’s running the hotel while they are gone, but if the writers aren’t concerned, why should we be?

Knowing a few key things about vampires, you may be wondering how exactly they’ll be able to go on a sunny Atlantic ocean cruise. I wondered that too and while they supposedly sail at night, applying moon screen for protection, the sun has to come up at some point. But then again, what happens in the Bermuda Triangle…

After a fun bit aboard a dilapidated plane run by gremlins (probably the one funny sequence of the movie), Dracula and his gang arrive at the Bermuda Triangle, their port of entry to board The Legacy, a giant ship which will take them to the hidden city of Atlantis. Their voyage is hosted by Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), who unbeknownst to Dracula and anyone else (except for the audience) is the great-granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), the sworn enemy of all monsters and someone who’s failed at killing Dracula for decades. As soon as Dracula lays eyes on Ericka, he’s smitten – a “zing” comes over him, a sensation that can be considered true love – and his brain becomes scrambled with feelings he hasn’t felt in years as he sets out to charm the cruise director. However, Ericka has her own agenda, with this whole cruise designed to lure Dracula and all his monster pals out to sea where she and her great-grandfather can find some MacGuffin that will obliterate them all. Along the way, Mavis becomes suspicious and somewhat protective, realizing something is afoul with Ericka, who actually might be coming around to the undeniable charm of the Count.

 

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It was only a matter of time before the character of Van Helsing was added to the cartoon mix of the “Hotel Transylvania” movies. In a humorous prologue, we see the longstanding pursuit of the hunter and his prey. Because of the tone of the movie, Van Helsing comes across as comic relief rather than a viable threat, always missing his shot to kill at Dracula and Tartakovsky has fun with a slapstick montage full of near-misses that displays the variety of cat-and-mouse games the two rivals have played over the years. It’s almost a shame we have to embark on the story of the movie after such an energetic and zany bit, but alas, the fart jokes are inevitably around the corner.

The heart of “Summer Vacation” (originally called “Monster Vacation, which would seem more appropriate) is essentially the relationship between father and daughter, something that’s carried on from the last two movies. Mavis is concerned that her father doesn’t really have a life outside of the hotel for monsters that he runs. There are hints that Dracula is feeling the pangs of loneliness, not having anyone to share this life of his after remaining a widow for so long. Screenwriters Tartakovsky and Michael McCullars never really delve into the respective concern and loneliness felt, since the focus is getting everyone away from their normal environment and out on the ocean, where a different location will provide the writers with an outlet to inject something new to the series.

Unfortunately, Dracula is Adam Sandler (the character is even designed to resemble him), someone who’s comedy schtick is only slightly more tolerable when we don’t have to see him and whose man-baby antics do very little favors for this legendary character. Sure, this is a comedy geared towards kids, so we’re not going to see Dracula drink blood or eviscerate humans, but Sandler’s handle on the character is grating, making me long for even a hint of nuance. He’s an obnoxious and selfish character, who essentially throws a fit when he realizes his daughter is taking him and his crew somewhere. Once the cruise is revealed, he complains about everything like a whiny kid, showing his ingratitude toward Mavis and an overall annoyance that should warrant being thrown overboard. Of course, all that whining changes once he sees Ericka and sadly most of the movie is overwhelmed by that uninteresting storyline. Like so many of Sandler’s comedic characters, his Dracula is motivated by his own desires, thinking very little of those who love him.

 

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Humor has never been the strength of these movies, which often rely on repeating heavy-handed goofiness and endless out-dated jokes until viewers are bored or exhausted. When Adam Samberg’s human character, Johnny, was introduced, the dopey DJ who married into the Dracula family, it was to add an appealing dynamic to the storyline, but now he’s relegated to cranking out awful tunes, like the climactic blasting of “Macarena” (which comes after Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) an cringeworthy earworm of a song that was awful more than twenty years ago, when it was released. You’d think a summer animated feature would want to introduce a catchy new song on its soundtrack, but that’s not on the agenda here. Instead, we get fart jokes. Did I mention those? When Ericka offers Dracula a garlic-heavy guacamole, with hopes of doing him in, the results are gaseous. Even when Mavis takes a bite, Johnny chuckles when she lets out a “cute toot”. Eh.

Even the target audience is limited, finding most children who saw the original aging out of the material presented to them. My 11-year-old daughter thought the only funny character was Dennis’ enormous pet dog, Tinkles, whom he manages to sneak on board. I think I agree with her. At least that character behaves like a dog and has no lines. Whereas, the tonally awkward bit where a trio of witches fall over themselves to get close to Vlad’s geriatric body in a Speedo didn’t produce any laughs out of her, nor should it. It’s awful and a pathetic use of Brooks’ comedy genius.

 

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Beyond the potty humor and awkward attempt at romantic arousals, Tartakovsky has a lot of characters to juggle, mainly Dracula’s monster pals who fill out the movie with background shenanigans and broad gags used to propel the story. Frank’s gambling addiction bit didn’t elicit any laughs, but Wayne and Wanda discovering newfound freedom after dropping off their pack of wolflings at the ship’s childcare is something that is amusingly relatable, even if that bit is run over and over again. With sequels, there is an expectation of new characters and here the Van Helsing family are the obvious new additions, but the only new character I got a kick of was this weird inexpressive fish-man (a hilarious Chris Parnell), named Stan, who works various duties on the ship and that’s about it. It says a lot about this sequel to say that a bizarre limp fish-man is the only standout characters.

If “Summer Vacation” has any redeeming qualities it’s in the design and visuals of the animation, which finds Tartakovsky and company paying homage to old cartoon stylings and offering an inspired sequence where Dracula follows Ericka into the depths of an ancient ruin to retrieve the aforementioned MacGuffin. There’s a treasure hunter feel to the later scene mixed with romantic curiosity that turns out being a rare fun physical moment for the audience. These are moments in which Tartakovsky (who has given us great animated shows like “Dexter’s Laboratory” and the great “Samurai Jack” and provided my favorite look for “Star Wars: Clone Wars”) excels, but they are few and far between, with most of the movie getting dragged down by the same lame Sandler comedy we’ve been subjected to for years.

And why? Because it makes money and money motivates. Three years ago, it was reported that Tartakovsky would not be returning for a second sequel. I don’t know what happened, but I understand how artists can get pulled back into a bankable project in order to finance a personal passion project. Here’s hoping that happens soon for this talented artist.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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