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.

Image from IMDb

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.

Image from IMDb

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.

Image from IMDb

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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