Hotel Transylvania is a strange equation. Take Sony Pictures and add much-acclaimed animator Genndy Tartakovsky, a script co-penned by Robert Smigel, and a cast of voice actors featuring Adam Sandler and his frequent collab buddies. Sounds like a too-many-cooks disaster.
It was a hit. Two sequels later, not much has changed in the lives of the widow Dracula (Sandler), his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), her husband Johnny (Andy Samberg), their kid Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), and the bevy of monsters that vacation at Drac’s hotel hideaway in Transylvania. With plot rendered largely inconsequential, the Hotel Transylvania franchise is an airy seat filler.
And this isn’t quite a bad thing. While Hotel Transylvania 2 is a through-and-through re-hash of the first film, which itself is a sentence’s length of plot playing out over 90 minutes, it still has its charms.
Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation makes the dramatic turn of altering course, moving its narrative away from the titular hotel and onto a vacation cruise to locations like the Bermuda Triangle and Atlantis.
Then, of course, the plot pivots back into its comfort zone, telling the same tale of family heritage and acceptance. Its a positive, if not well-understood message.
This cruise narrative comes with the benefit of adding two lively vocal performances from Kathryn Hahn, who plays the ship’s captain, and Jim Gaffigan, who is Drac’s heretofore unmentioned nemesis Van Helsing. Both actors give their subplots some much needed verve.
Hotel Transylvania movies have a distinct balancing act comedic structure. Groans and chuckles come in almost equal measure. If the groans come stronger than the laughs (think Sandler rapping at the denouement of the first film), it taints the film and any good will the cleverer gags have accumulated.
With this third film, the groans are in shorter supply. There are stretches, as a result, where it seems as if Summer Vacation is the pinnacle of animated Adam-Sandler-playing-Dracula entertainment. This installment was scripted by Tartakovsky himself, so the action does steer into his wheelhouse of visually-cued humor. Early on, for example, we are treated to the blistering humor of a gremlin-employed airline flight, which maximizes on visual punchlines.
Whether it truly is the best Hotel Transylvania installment is questionable. There are still tepid bits to unearth, like one involving garlic and subsequent gastrointestinal distress. And there are jokes that are repeated verbatim throughout the film, like one involving the giant puppy that was introduced in Puppy!, the pre-show short film attached to The Emoji Movie. Regardless, the bar of quality here is not the loftiest one.
It does seem that Tartakovsky is more self-aware about the franchise than the previous screenwriters. Of-the-moment pop songs litter these films, often to cringing results. It is interesting, then, to see how music is incorporated into the climax of Summer Vacation. It doesn’t play out as you might expect.
Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation is a Hotel Transylvania movie. There are no ground-shaking surprises. Sandler and his camp function well in this realm (better this than a Grown Ups 3). It is light-hearted and well-intentioned, a wholesome family film with an animation guru pulling the strings. You could ask for more. But, really, what did you expect?
Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)