Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018)

JULY 14, 2018

GENRE: ANIMATED, MONSTER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

My son Will turned 4 in May, and a few weeks later we dubbed him old enough to try taking him to a movie (Incredibles 2, for the record). He was mostly perfect - he forgot to use his whisper voice once or twice and got a little restless in the middle when it hit a long stretch without any action, but otherwise I was very impressed with how well he behaved, considering he rarely sits through an entire movie at home. So I felt comfortable taking him to see Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, since it was about 30 minutes shorter and not as likely to be bogged down with plot (plus, even if it did, it'd be monsters talking instead of boring humans). And as an added bonus, I could finally see one of them without feeling like a creepy weirdo, watching a kids' movie by myself because it qualified enough as "horror" for me to write it up.

Which I guess makes this his first horror movie? He hasn't seen the others, far as I know, but he seemed to enjoy it. He liked Blobby, and was bizarrely fascinated about the Invisible Man - every time he appeared (via floating glasses) Will felt compelled to announce "He's invisible!" to everyone in earshot, prompting another reminder that he had to whisper (luckily some other kids around us were chatty too so it's not like he was the only disruption, but still. MY SON WILL RESPECT THE THEATER!). He told me later that he was scared at one point, but I'm not sure where because he didn't say so at the time, but it was a few days ago and he hasn't reported any nightmares, so woo! If you're worried about your own kids, I would say it's the least "scary" of the trio, thanks in part to the new setting - a sunny cruise ship as opposed to the dark hotel. There's a big squid monster near the end, and an opening chase on a train that's a bit relatively intense, but otherwise it's mostly just Dracula and his pals having fun on the ship and also Drac falling in love with the cruise director. If they can handle the others, they should be more than OK for this one (and if they haven't seen them this would be the easiest to recommend for their first attempt; in fact, it's the first one to not have "scary images" in its MPAA rating).

OK now that the parents guide is done with, what did I think? It was pretty fun; I liked the second one better though, as this took a step back with regards to giving the other monsters anything to do, which was my main issue with the first film. So once again the other guys - Frank, the Wolfman, Invisible Man, etc - are just kind of there for the most part, having very little to do with the main plot and also not getting any significant little subplots of their own. The only exception is Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and his wife, who have like a hundred little werewolf babies and discover the cruise has a daycare (it prompts the best joke for adults in the movie; when the daycare director says they get the kids back at the end of the day, Wayne mutters that it's "better than nothing"). I thought this would prompt a "life lesson" kinda thing about them going off on dates and such only to realize they missed the kids, but no - instead, the villain knocks them out a little while later and they're forgotten for the rest of the film. No one even notices they're gone, and they just kind of reappear at the end unceremoniously. It's like the writers forgot to follow up and didn't bother to fix it.

Speaking of the writers, it's kind of amusing that (in my opinion) the best of the three films - the 2nd one - is the only one that has a writing credit from Adam Sandler. That one DID give the other guys something to do, and had the most laughs, so for all the shit he takes from his critics it's interesting that these films could seemingly benefit from his writing talents. The plot this time around is pretty fun in theory - Van Helsing's granddaughter Ericka wants to live up to her family legacy and kill Dracula (and all the other monsters) but finds herself falling for him. Van Helsing is also around, but he's basically a monster too; a head on a robot thing (his body mangled from so many encounters with Dracula). But there's only so much they can do with just that, and the other subplots either die out like the aforementioned Wayne one, or just aren't all that interesting or funny, such as the ongoing gags concerning Drac's grandson bringing his giant "puppy" on board and passing him off as a monster named Bob.

So it just kind of gets by on the strength of its occasional setpieces, such as when Drac and Ericka have a sort of tango around various booby traps (most of which hit him anyway; he's immortal so it doesn't matter), or when the gang plays volleyball with a ball that can apparently feel pain and fear, screaming the entire time. I also quite liked the flight to the cruise, which was run by Gremlins, in a plane that was falling apart as it flew - can we get a spinoff movie about these things? Director Genndy Tartakovsky doesn't throw in as many sight gags as I seem to remember from the others, though it's still a trip to just let your eyes wander around the frame during the big crowd scenes and enjoy all the various monster designs, and the animation itself continues to improve. I caught some of the first movie on FX or one of those the other day, and it's kind of striking how much the designs have changed over the three films, as they look more cartoonish (in a good way) than their original incarnations. The script may not have been up to snuff, but the animators were bringing their A-game, at least.

Oh, if you're more of a fan of Andy Samberg than Sandler, don't even bother - Johnny is barely in it, and I doubt Samberg took more than 2-3 hours tops to record his lines, most of which come in the climax. Selena Gomez as Dracula's daughter Mavis gets a lot of screentime, but otherwise it's pretty much all just Sandler and Kathryn Hahn (Ericka), with some added occasional fun courtesy of the great Chris Parnell, who plays the fish that staff the cruise ship (he voices all of them). It's kind of a bummer that Sandler has assembled such a great cast (Mel Brooks also returns, for I think three lines) and wastes most of them, but I'm sure the kids won't care much. And there is nary a Rob Schneider or Nick Swardson in sight, so let's take the good with the bad.

But hey, all that matters in the end is if the kids have fun, as there's no law that they need to appeal to the adults (though it would be nice since we're the one buying the tickets and popcorn). I promised myself I wouldn't push my love of horror on my kid like some other parents do, and I'm already seeing signs that he's not naturally inclined to love it anyway (he seemed more into Incredibles, for sure). But if he wants to watch "Daddy movies" I'm glad there's gateway stuff like this that I can get him started with, familiarizing him with the various kinds of monsters and also showing him that they're not always scary. Plus, even if it wasn't up to the relative highs of the 2nd film (or maybe even the first), it held my attention and amused me, which is more than I can say about the likes of Cars or pretty much any Dreamworks movie I've seen, so there's something. And I can still hold out hope for the TV series I wanted it to be in the first place!

What say you?

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