Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018) Review
A FUN (YET SLIGHTLY
In 2012, animated director / writer Genndy Tartakovsky (along with a story by Todd Durham) released the cartoon movie Hotel Transylvania. The film, which starred the voice talents of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, and many others, told the story of Count Dracula’s daughter Mavis and how she finds an unexpected love interest when a human finds his way to her father’s hotel for legendary monsters of legend, causing unrest with Dracula himself. While the film faced mixed reviews from critics, moviegoers (especially the demographic target) found an interest in the animated monster tale, cultivating in a box office number of roughly $358 million against its production budget of $85 million. Given the modest success it found, its sequel Hotel Transylvania 2 was released in 2015, which continued the misadventures of those motley monster gang (and Dracula’s growing family) and saw the return of many (if not all) voice talents returning to their posts. Much like the first film, Hotel Transylvania 2 was met with mixed thoughts and criticisms, but was still able to achieve a box office sum of $473 million (roughly) against its $80 million budget. Now, after three since the release of Hotel Transylvania 2, Sony Pictures Animation and director Genndy Tartakovsky release the second sequel in the franchise with the movie Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Does this monster-filled threequel adventure finds its stride on the animated high seas or does this “summer vacation” installment fail to find its “monster groove”?
Maintaining business at the Hotel Transylvania, Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) is a workaholic, which worries his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), who believes a break from the “daily grind” will help her dad get some much need relaxation. In a special surprise, Mavis, along with her human husband Johnny (Andy Samberg) and their son Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), decides for the vacation on a monster-filled cruise getaway on-board the ship “Legacy” for the monster gang, with Dracula joined by Frank (Kevin James), Murray (Keegan-Michael Key), Wayne (Steve Buscemi), and Griffin (David Spade), embarking on an oceanic adventure at sea, with cruise ship captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). Secretly, however, Ericka is actually Ericka Van Helsing, the great-granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), Dracula’s mortal enemy. In a surprise twist of fate, Dracula, feeling the “zing”, is in love with Ericka, but he’s unable to express himself, trying to charm the cruise director, who’s actually setting up Dracula for her great-grandfather to finally assassinate his old foe. As the voyage on-board the Legacy continues (with a final destination to the fabled city of Atlantis), Dracula puts himself in harm’s way, with Ericka struggles with her dark lineage and her own feelings for the Transylvania count, while Mavis is unsure about Ericka’s motives.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Being a fan of animated movies, I remember seeing the various trailers (back in 2012) for Hotel Transylvania. Judging from the trailers, it looked interesting, but I actually didn’t go and see it in the theaters. I can’t remember the reason why I didn’t see it (I think I was busy at the time of its theatrical release), but I do remember seeing the movie a few years later. If I recall, I think it was a few months before the release Hotel Transylvania 2. Personally, I liked the first Hotel Transylvania as it was filled with plenty of monster fun (in a kid-friendly atmosphere) as well as plenty of comical bits. Plus, the voice talents throughout the characters (both major and minor ones) were great in it, especially Adam Sandler as Dracula and Adam Samberg as Johnny. After viewing that movie, I did watch Hotel Transylvania 2 when it got released in theaters and found it to be satisfying enjoyable. It did have a few problems, but it was still a fun continuation / sequel to the original film, with many of the voice talents return to the feature as well as Tartakovsky returning to the director’s chair. All in all, I found both Hotel Transylvania movies to be fun animated movies from an animation that’s considered to be more of a second-tier studio (i.e. a non-Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, or Illumination Entertainment).
This brings me back to talking about Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, the third and latest installment in Hotel Transylvania. To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting a third Hotel Transylvania movie as I figured that the second one pretty much wrapped up the tale of Dracula, Mavis, and the rest of the gang. Of course, these type of episodic franchise potential animated endeavors can have many feature films, coming up with numerous misadventures narrative for its characters to play around with. Thus, Summer Vacation fits that bill. The film’s trailers, which were showing many times when I saw a PG movie during my weekly theater outings, looks pretty funny, carrying a lot of the same goofy bravado as the previous films and was looking forward to seeing it in theaters (of course, which I did). So, what did I think of it? Well, it may not be the best installment of the franchise, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation makes for an amusing entry in this monster-filled series. It stumbles a bit (here and there), but has a lot of zany cartoon fun to entertaining its viewers.
As with the rest of this animated franchise, Summer Vacation is directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, whose previous directorial credits in the animation world includes Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and Star Wars: Clone Wars. It is interesting, however, that Tartakovsky (after the theatrical release of Hotel Transylvania 2), stated that he wasn’t returning for the third installment of the Hotel Transylvania series and then…. lo and behold…. he decides to return to the project to helm Summer Vacation. I am somewhat curious to know what changed his mind to return to the director’s chair for the threequel tale. Still, it’s a rather smart decision for Tartakovsky to direct Summer Vacation as he knows this animated world of classic / legendary monsters and knows when to strike a humorous tone within its tale. Thus, to his credit, Tartakovsky succeeds in recapturing the kinetic frenzy energy from the past two Hotel Transylvania films into this third installment, displaying a lot of the same (yet still fun) goofy child-ish humor and gags that mostly hit their target. It’s all very slapstick fun and visual gags, but that’s what makes these animated movies work so well, especially with Tartakovsky at the helm. Thus, it really goes without saying, that if you liked and laughed at various parts in the first two movies, you’ll do the same in Summer Vacation. However, the movie isn’t a complete carbon copy of the previous films as Tartakovsky, who also co-wrote the film’s script, along with Michael McCullers, presented Summer Vacation with a interesting twist of taking the narrative away from Dracula’s hotel (a setting that was used primarily for both previous Hotel Transylvania movies). Yes, it’s still featured in the movie, but acts more of bookended sequences, with the primary setting of a cruise ship and other various locales to populate the movie. It’s not a super game changer, but it also the franchise to move into new terrain (and a bit of new direction). Coinciding with that, the story of Summer Vacation does give room for a central antagonist figure (i.e. Van Helsing); a tactic, while a classic in storytelling, is something new for the Hotel Transylvania franchise and (again) takes the series in a slightly new direction, which is a good thing.
Also, as an additionally fun note throughout the film, Tartakovsky makes use of the new cruise ship surroundings, with a lot of scenarios and things that are usually commonplace on a taking a vacation on a luxury vessel. Everything from the checking in (complete with phot op), the meeting of the cruise director, the kid’s club area, the pool deck parties, port excursions, and a few other nuances. It may not be a big deal to some, but I’ve traveled extensively on cruise ships since I was in the 3rd grade and always love that “cruise” life and atmosphere. Thus, seeing that in Summer Vacation felt pretty interesting and (again) a bit of a different venue for the Hotel Transylvania gang to experience throughout the course of the film.
In terms of animation, Summer Vacation is another solid endeavor in CG animation. While these movies never had that ultra-hyper real style of animation (something like a Pixar feature film or any other similar styles), but has that own look and appeal that makes all the various characters (human and monster alike). This new movie continues that same style, but the animation seems to have gotten better, sharpening character facial expressions and intricate body details in making them more creatively animated and more fluid than before. Additionally, in terms of technical demonstrations, the visual background settings are flushed with vibrant colors and creative designs of the various locales that the cruise ship Legacy voyages to. Thus, the film’s animators on Summer Vacation must be commended for their efforts on the project as well as the art direction by Christian Schellewald. Lastly, the film’s musical score, which was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, is pretty good and adds that layer of music (be it loud and grandiose pieces or soft and quieter moments) throughout. As a side note, DJ sensation musician artist Tiesto, lend his talents in the movie for various sequences of DJ music.
Summer Vacation does have its fair share of problems, which hinders the movie and makes it the weakest installment of the Hotel Transylvania franchise. The most obvious one (and most notable) is the story being told. Like what I said above, I appreciate the ingenuity that Tartakovsky and McCullers move the story away from the hotel and onto a cruise ship, but the film’s story / plot leaves a lot to be desired and isn’t quite thought out. The story in the two previous films, while filled with monster gags and cartoon tomfoolery, still found the animated heart within its narrative, capturing a dramatic stride and emotional core in its tale of monsters and humans. Summer Vacation, however, seems a bit more devoid of that dramatic heart, despite the film trying to build some material to play around with. There’s a sense of conflict with Dracula’s love for Ericka (or rather his “zing”), Ericka struggling with her dark lineage, and Mavis struggles with her dad and (possibly) spending time with Johnny. Thus, the film’s narrative ground work is set, but neither Tartakovsky nor McCullers never really follows through those plot ideas and stumbles along, offering more soft drama (which feels more programmed) rather than congealed and heartfelt. In short, Summer Vacation seems less focused on substance material and instead opting for more goofy and zany antics throughout.
Speaking of which, some of the humorous jokes and gags in the film don’t quite land on their intended target. Several jokes from the first two films (i.e. Dracula’s “Blah, Blah, Blah and few others) return and feel more shoehorned in as if Tartakovsky tries to make a franchise trademark of Hotel Transylvania gags. However, it’s more the opposite as some of these jokes from past films come up as dry and worn out and really make a lasting impression. That same can be slightly said with all the other jokes and gags that Summer Vacation as to offer. While there’s a lot that movie gets right on its humor (like I said above), the film relies too much on them and not on its story. Again, this goes back to what I said about the story lacks focused on its plot and uses the various jokes and gags as a main crutch rather than a plotting an actual wholesome story (like the previous two films were able to establish).
Adding to that problem is the film’s third act. While most animated films (especially recent ones) are capable of handling complexed final / climatic battles sequences (something that kids can enjoy, but nothing derivate). Unfortunately, Summer Vacation decides to go big (in a big way) for a final confrontation, but it mostly ends up being loud and noisy. Adding to that it, it’s mostly large-scale stuff that’s a mixture of laughter and music, including a sort of music battle of various songs. While its not a total waste (there’s some excitement to it), it seems sillier and not at all what I would’ve expected (I pictured the film’s final confrontation completely different). Coinciding with that, the film ends rather quickly. Much of the dangling story threads are quickly wrapped up (somewhat) and even the main story thread (i.e. Dracula and Ericka) wraps up rather haphazardly as if there’s something missing. While its not a complete deal breaker, I would’ve liked a bit more closure in Summer Vacation than what was presented. Lastly (and I’ll explain it below), some of the characters are a bit underutilized, despite being prominently setup in the past Hotel Transylvania movies.
Much like the previous films, Summer Vacation excels in the voice acting department, with many voice actors and actresses returning to reprise their respective roles from the previous films as well as few new ones who join the roster in this installment. Of course, lead the charge (at the head of the pack) is comedian actor Adam Sandler, who plays the central character of the Hotel Transylvania franchise Dracula. While Sandler, known for his roles in The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy, and Grown Ups, has been (over the recent years) criticized by critics and moviegoers (i.e. repeatedly labeled as an “overpaid actor” or “sleeping walking through his scenes” etc.), his vocals are still well-suited for Hotel Transylvania’s Dracula character. Much like what I said for Hotel Transylvania 2, perhaps Sandler is best heard (mostly in animated endeavors) and not seeing in his live-action features. To his credit, Sandler provides the right amount of inherit zany and goofiness for a film that like and continues to excel in that endeavor, with Summer Vacation being the latest one in that field. He knows how hit the right amount cartoon-ish moments of dialogue (be it drama or comedy). Once again, the character of Dracula is main centerpiece for the feature, finding his second moment to “zing” with another and (given how the movie’s story shapes up) is still a fun character to see on-screen. In the end, Sandler’s animated performance as Dracula continues works and his probably one of his better performance (be cartoon or live-action) in recent years.
In larger supporting roles are the characters that surround Dracula’s inner family, which consists of his daughter Mavis (voiced by actor / singer Selena Gomez), her human husband Johnny (voiced by Andy Samberg), and their son Dennis (voiced by Asher Blinkoff). Gomez, known for her role in Wizards of Waverly Place, Monte Carlo, and Another Cinderella Story, and Samberg, known for his roles in Storks, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Saturday Night Live, continue to give great vocal performances in their respective roles of Mavis and Johnny. While Gomez finds a balance between comedy and drama with in her character, Samberg continues to play up his inherit “man child” goofy vibe into his character of Johnny (which I like). Similarly, Blinkoff (Bling and The Jungle Book) returns to provide his youthful voice to young Dennis. My only problems with these three characters is that, despite being important character in previous Hotel Transylvania movies, their overall impact in Summer Vacation is a bit inconsequential to the larger story in the film. Of course, they’re featured in the movie, but their storyline threads are just for amusement (almost like filler) and vague connection the narrative in various points and are not fully committed to overall story arc plot of the feature. The same can be said with the character Vlad (Dracula’s father), who is voiced by comedian actor Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs). He was first introduced in Hotel Transylvania 2 and played an important part in the movie, especially the later half. In Summer Vacation, he merely reduced to a small (almost cameo-like) role, which is disappointing. Brook’s recognizable voice is still great as Vlad, but I just wished his character was more prevalent in Summer Vacation’s narrative.
The rest of the returning characters are once again in more supporting roles that are sprinkled throughout the feature. This includes actor (and frequent collaborator with Sandler) Kevin James (King of Queens and Kevin Can Wait) as Frank (i.e. Frankenstein’s monster), actress Fran Drescher (The Nanny and Happily Divorced) as Frank’s wife Eunice, actor Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire and Reservoir Dogs) as the werewolf Wayne, actress Molly Shannon (Superstar and Never Been Kissed) as Wayne’s wife Wanda, Sadie Sandler (Adam Sandler’s daughter) as Wayne and Wanda’s daughter Winnie, actor David Spade (Tommy Boy and Joe Dirt) as Griffin (i.e. the Invisible Man), actor Keegan Michael-Key (Pitch Perfect 2 and Keanu) as the ancient mummy Murray, and even Genndy Tartakovsky returns to reprise his small vocal performance for the character of Blobby (I know it’s a running gag character, but I do love the character of blobby).
In terms of new characters, not many are added, with the only ones being the film’s two antagonist characters of Ericka and her great-grandfather Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who are voiced by actress Kathryn Hahn and actor / stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan. Hahn, known for her roles in Bad Moms, Transparent, and Parks and Recreation, is great in the movie as Ericka, utilizing her expressive voice in bringing her character to life. Evens still, Hahn handles her more dramatic roles rather good as well, equally balancing Ericka with comedic goofy villainy as well as emotional heart. Personally, I liked her in this movie and I hope to see her again…. if a Hotel Transylvania 4 is eventually green-lit. Likewise, Gaffigan, known for his roles in Away We Go, Chuck, and Chappaquiddick, gives a very humorous / goofy cartoon-ish take on the classic monster Van Helsing. Gaffigan’s voice for Van Helsing is also quite interesting in the movie as it doesn’t really sound like him, but still adds that sort of comically baddie that’s usually appears in an animated film like this. Lastly, in a smaller role in the movie, is singer / actor Joe Jonas (Jonas and Camp Rock) as the voice of the Kraken.
Dracula, Mavis, Johnny, and the entire Hotel Transylvania monster gang are back and taken a cruise ship vacation in the film Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Director Genndy Tartakovsky’s latest film sees the return of the entire monster gang for another zany / goofy threequel adventure, seeing Dracula and his friends taking a holiday vacation on the high seas. While the movie does stumble in a bit of an unfocused manner as well as some unbalanced comedy gags and a kind of bizarre (loud and noisy) final act, the film does make for a light-hearted breezy animated feature, with special thanks to its continuation narrative thread of the franchise characters (along with the solid voice actors) as well as the franchise’s inherit animated tale of monsters and child-ish tomfoolery angst. Personally, I like this movie. It wasn’t the absolute best and is probably the weakest installment of the Hotel Transylvania franchise (so far), but it still a fun and comically and will definitely appeal to its target demographic age of young kids. Thus, I would give this movie my “recommended” stamp of approval, which again falls in line with the juice-box crowd to young tween range as well as those who like animated features (like me). Will this movie find success…enough to green light a Hotel Transylvania 4? The answer is unclear, but it’s a possibility (I’m certainly game for another monster adventure). For now, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, while not the strongest entry in the series, is still a fun and amusing extension, letting the adventure of Dracula and his monster friends play in a new surrounding area and more time in its wacky gags.
3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: July 13th, 2018
Reviewed On: July 26th, 2018
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is 97 minutes long and is rated PG for some action and rude humor