Cinema Dispatch: Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

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Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Releasing

Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

If I was reviewing films back when the first Hotel Transylvania film came out, it would have easily been in the top five films of that year.  Avengers?  Whatever!  Flight?  Forget about it!  21 Jump Street, Prometheus, Skyfall, Chronicle?  Okay, SOME of those might have made it on the list, but Hotel Transylvania was an absolute surprise that I don’t think anyone has really managed to top in regards to its animation and flat out hilarity.  Now that’s not to say that films like Coco, Wreck-It Ralph, and The LEGO Movie aren’t great in their own way, but what Tartakovsky did with Hotel Transylvania was sheer brilliance and just hasn’t been replicated since.  Except for MAYBE The Peanuts Movie which ingeniously recreated the art style in CG, no other film has felt so AUTHENTICALLY cartoonish as this series, and that certainly earns it a massive amount of respect from me even if the sequel was FINE but not up to the first one.  Now that we’re at the third film though with Tartakovsky STILL directing these (wasn’t he supposed to make a film called Can You Imagine, or that new Popeye movie?), so with this film has the spark FINALLY gone out for this franchise or did they fix the mistakes of the sequel to bring something just as fantastic as the first film?  Let’s find out!!

Following the events of Part 2, the titular Hotel Transylvania has been doing well with Count Dracula (Adam Sandler), his daughter Mavis (Selina Gomez), and his son-in-law Johnny (Andy Samberg), keeping down the fort as the place becomes a popular tourist attractions for both humans and monsters, and ESPECIALLY for monster wedding; presumably both in terms of scale and as a description of those tying the knot.  However, all this lovey-dovey stuff has made it more clear than ever that Drac himself has been alone for at least a hundred years since his wife (and Mavis’s mom) died at the hands of a torch wielding mob of humans, so maybe it’s time to get him back in the saddle.  At least you’d THINK that’s what everyone is thinking, but Mavis thinks he just needs a vacation and takes him on a cruise along with all his buddies (Kevin James as Frankenstein, David Spade as The Invisible Man, Steve Buscemi as The Werewolf, and Keegan-Michael Key as The Mummy) along with THEIR significant others (Fran Drescher, Chrissy Teigen, and Molly Shannon), as well all the monsters who have ever stayed at the Hotel so you can see them do their classic bits, and of course we cannot forget Drac’s dad Vlad (Mel Brooks)!  Oh, and don’t forget the kids Dennis and Winnie (Asher Blinkoff and Sadie Sandler) who are on this trip as well but are doing their own thing with Dennis’s giant pet dog Tinkles.  Said vacation by the way is being hosted by the adventurous and very much human Captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn) who’s not just whisking these monsters on a fabulous journey; she’s also managed to immediately steal the heart of Drac who ZINGED the moment he caught sight of her!  Now Drac has to find a way to confess his feelings for Captain Ericka while also keeping it from Mavis who he worries might not accept him dating again after the death of her mother all those years ago.  Can Drac find love out on the open sea, or will his duties as a loving father (and grandfather!) keep him from finding love once again?  Is Captain Ericka as wonderful as she seems and the perfect match for good ol’ Drac, or is there more to her than meets the eye?  If this movie is a hit, can we finally get Tartakovsky to do that Popeye movie?  PLEASE!?

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“We’ve made Sony a BILLION dollars!  You’d think they’d throw him a bone at some point!!”

Look, is this movie as good as the first one?  Heck no, but then neither was the second one.  I STILL really liked it though!  While the last one missed the mark by TRYING to be the first one, this one knows better than to go for any real “emotional depth” and instead just lets the whole thing play out like an extended Looney-Tunes cartoon on a rather sizeable studio budget!  There’s no doubt that the aim is WAY lower this time around, but Genndy Tartakovsky indulging this much in visual gags and classic pratfalls is still so much more entertaining for me than movies that either try to go for emotional weight and come up empty (*cough* Incredibles 2 *cough*) or try to go for that sense hectic energy but without much creativity to it (*cough* Angry Birds *cough*).  It’s a fluff piece and it sadly isn’t in the same ballpark as the original film, but then Incredibles 2 wasn’t in the same ball park as ITS original film and people are praising that all over the place!  If nothing else, it’s WAY better than that awful cartoon series they made.  SERIOUSLY, IF DRACULA HAD A SISTER, WHERE WAS SHE IN THE MOVIES!?

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NOPE!  HAPPY THOUGHTS!  HAPPY THOUGHTS!  Can’t think about that while I’m watching Drac dance!

What works here is what has always worked about the other films, even when the writing started to sag a bit by the time we got to part two.  The visual design of EVERYTHING in on a level we simply don’t see in animated movies; even from the likes of Pixar who may have buckets of creativity and strong theming through its visual style (the sixties aesthetic of The Incredibles is not only appropriate for the pulpy super spy angle they’re going for but is also thematically relevant to the PERFECT MODERN FAMILY persona they’re all forced to adopt so they don’t stand out), but no one just CRAMS their frame the way that Tartakovsky does in these movies!  I’ve watched the first Hotel Transylvania way too many times, and every single FRAME of that movie is practically a work of art with layers of characters, focus, and gags going on at any moment; yet it all blends together seamlessly and rewards repeat viewings.  That tradition is carried on here, though I’ll have to watch it more than once to see if it holds up as well as the original film.  Seeing it on the big screen though in all its wacky yet carefully thought out splendor is a delight and does a lot to make up for its rather unobtrusive plot which just kind of sits in the background between scenes of the monsters playing volleyball, Dracula strutting around the deck in his Hawaiian shirt, and the small little character moments between all of our favorite monsters.  Sure, no one REALLY gets enough time in this as there’s so many characters (Vlad in particular is disappointingly shoved WAY into the background), but I think it’s still more than entertaining enough on a moment to moment basis to somewhat compensate for the story just not having that same thematic resonance that we got in the first film.  Say what you will about that movie, but there are moments where it REALLY tugs at the heartstrings (the scene where Mavis asks her father to wipe her memory is a real gut punch) and you never really get that here.  I’d say that the relationship between Drac and Captain Ericka gets CLOSE to that as their push/pull romance actually does sell quite well (especially when Ericka’s MISSION as it were conflicts with her growing feelings for the guy), but don’t go in expecting the surprising depth of the first film or even the somewhat fleshed out narrative of the second.

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“You know something, Count?  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”     “I like your… hair?”

What’s also unique about the movie is how much it’s focused on adult characters and their adult relationships.  Mavis and Jonny despite being rather young are still grown ass adults with a kid and mature problems, and Dennis and Whinny (the only two kids on hand) are barely even in this!  Heck, we get more about Frankenstein and his relationship to his wife Eunice than we do about the kids sneaking their giant puppy aboard!  There’s even gambling in this movie!  When was the last time you saw a PG movie that explicitly showed gambling!?  Sure, none of it is handled with a HUGE amount of maturity (this is still aimed at a VERY young audience), but it adds something to the movie which is lacking a bit too much in depth.  In fact, the shift of focus FROM a more adult story in the first film to focusing more on kids in the second is one of the reasons the sequel felt a bit lackluster.  It was refreshing that an animated movie aimed at families had practically no children in it (the only ones there were background characters at most) and so the story felt that much more relatable and could go a bit deeper into complicated emotions, but when the sequel focused on Dennis and about raising kids, it just felt a bit too much like every other animated movie.  While we’re lacking the heart of the original, I’m glad that so much of this is focused on adults while still being done in a way that will appeal to people of all ages, including kids.

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Hotel Transylvania 4 BETTER be about Johnny’s mid-life crisis!  That’s all I’m saying!!

Now I don’t want to oversell this film TOO much as the flaws that are there, despite being mitigated by the always amazing animation and solid joke writing, keep this from becoming a truly great film in a franchise that should be knocking it out of the park each time.  The brevity of each character’s stories are kind of annoying, but it’s particularly bad for Mavis and Johnny; neither of whom really get the screen time they need despite being the true heart of the franchise.  I love Drac, but his relationship to his daughter is what sets this movie apart, and while Johnny was significantly downgraded in part 2, he was also a big reason why the first one worked as well as it did and I’d like to see him become that important character once again.  I also am not the BIGGEST fan of THE ZING as it has a rather narrow view of love and relationships, and while there is an aspect of this movie that CHALLENGES that to a certain extent (you mean someone can “zing” TWICE!?), there’s still too much of a ONLY FIND TRUE LOVE, THEN MARRY THEM tone to the whole thing that feels a BIT dated.

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“We Zinged, we Zanged, then Zung.”     “Pfft.  If you want to call it that.”

Despite its very obvious flaws, some of which seem intentional so as to facilitate more jokes and visual gags, I do recommend this movie as the Hotel Transylvania franchise is still one of the best we have right now as far as animation.  Could it be better?  Well sure, and not just in the sense that ANY movie could be improved.  I’d like another movie that’s just as good as the original, but if we can’t get that then it’s at least nice to have one that does something different with the formula.  Out of the three it’s probably the weakest, mostly because Part 2 tried had loftier goals, but for what it is it’s still a heck of a good time and is certainly far from the worst this franchise has to offer.  That’s still the animated series, and then probably that video game they released out of the blue.  Seriously, did anyone know that was happening!?  WHY IS THAT A THING!?

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