‘Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation’ is a washed-up mess
We’ve been here before.
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, released July 13th, 2018 (a Friday, no less), is a film borrowing from the same school of thought that birthed such films as Rugrats Go Wild!, Alvin and the Chipmunk: Chipwrecked, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Uncle Eddie’s Island Adventure. That special part in a series of films where the writers have seemingly run out of ideas two films in (and the first in the case of Cousin Eddie), and decide to make going on a cruise/going “tropical” the focal point of the third outing.
Regardless, what makes this notable in this case is the presence of one Adam Sandler. Former SNL wunderkind and leading man behind such perennial classics as Billy Madison, Sandler has made himself known for shamelessly shoehorning in his friends and family into his work (Ex. Grown-Ups), and filming movies in exotic locales (Ex. Hawaii for Just Go with It, Africa for Blended, an expensive Royal Caribbean cruise for Jack and Jill) practically as an excuse for a “well-deserved” vacation. I bring this up because Sandler is the leading man of the Hotel Transylvania franchise, and for the first time in his career, he’s making a vacation movie where he can’t actually go on the vacation.
What does this mean for Hotel 3? Well, to say the least, it’s complicated.
Motion of the ocean
Just to get this out of the way, the animation in this film is literally the only genuinely good part. That’s it. Directed and partially written (in a series first) by Genndy Tartakovsky, hot off the heels of finishing Samurai Jack (and having his passion project, a Popeye adaptation, killed by executives at Sony in favor of producing The Emoji Movie and shafting him to a third Hotel movie), he makes the absolute best of his situation. Out of all of the films in this series, this movie has the most of Genndy’s personal touch on it.
The most inspired sequences in the film are effectively silent, focusing solely on motion and music in perfect combination. While they do feel occasionally long and at times self-indulgent (even to the point of not really feeling necessary, which we will get back to later), compared to some of the other children’s films I’ve seen, it’s a genuine relief from other films whose philosophy consists of just being constant noise machines to babysit unruly children.
From sequences relying solely on visual humor to just how all of the characters are animated, this is arguably the closest a CGI feature has come to mimicking hand-drawn 2D animation, and it is an absolute blast to watch in motion. Undoubtedly, this movie is a cartoon, and is by no means ashamed of that fact.
Deus Ex Macarena
Yet, what potential the animation and overall production quality bring to the table is ultimately squandered thanks in part due to…just about everything else.
The plot of the film (if there is one to be gleaned) follows Dracula (Sandler) and a cavalcade of Sandler’s real life buddies voicing Universal Horror icons being dragged onto a cruise vacation by his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her family. Things immediately go haywire as the captain of the boat, Erika (newcomer to the franchise Kathryn Hawn) turns out to be the great grand-daughter of Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), whose vendetta for monsters runs in the family. Shenanigans ensue as Drac “zings” with Erika, and grows deeply infatuated with the woman…and that’s it. Aside from one or two subplots that barely have any real weight on the story, that is the entirety of the movie. As a result, a lot of the film is just pure filler with no real purpose in the overall narrative, just barely padding the movie out to feature length. Of course, this filler is beautiful to watch, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still just a waste of time.
And even then, what’s there isn’t really worth it. The primary beats of the plot are trite and overused, even repeating material from the earlier films in the franchise. The performances from a majority of the main cast feel phoned-in, leaving very little for an audience member to latch onto from a character perspective. Heck, even the music (composed by franchise veteran and DEVO frontman Mark Mothersbaugh) feels generic at times.
Speaking of music, this film has arguably one of the worst climaxes I’ve seen in my career of film criticism, and it all falls down to Sony Pictures Animation’s reliance of using dance parties, a trope in animation that has grown in notoriety by effectively being a placeholder for a more coherent ending. I realize that this trope isn’t utilized in some of their other productions, but especially in the aftermath of The Emoji Movie, it feels like an example of the company taking the wrong lessons. Especially so here, because Hotel 3 makes a move that is so baffling, that I dare not spoil it for the faint of heart…
…Screw it. The Macarena saves the day, leading to a solid minute of the entire cast JUST doing the Macarena. No subtlety, no awareness (aside from an offhand comment from a character barely in the film to begin with), and all shoved into your face without a shred of real comedy. It’s just tasteless.
Bon voyage (and never come back)
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, unfortunately, is a fairly pointless endeavor in bland humor, trite writing, and some of the best computer-generated animation ever put to digital celluloid. I literally cannot enforce this point enough both in regards to this film, and the two prior entries in the Hotel Transylvania franchise. Genndy Tartakovsky has a godlike talent for timing and design in his work, and Hotel 3 is the best cinematic display of his sensibilities and strengths outside of a television medium. However, it is downright depressing to see him still being shackled to this franchise after being adamant about not returning since the release of Hotel 1. Corporate politics aside, Hotel Transylvania 3 is nothing more than a low-level Adam Sandler comedy occasionally elevated by the medium that it is being delivered in. It’s no Jack and Jill and it’s still better than Eight Crazy Nights, but at the end of the day, it still sucks.
Featured Image from Hotel T3
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