Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is the first of the three Hotel Transylvania films to actually feel like an Adam Sandler film, though it must also be said that Hotel Transylvania 3 never quite loses its age appropriateness. Instead, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is a dumbed down version of a dumbed down Adam Sandler that seems to hope that audiences won't notice its dumbed downedness behind all the glitz, glamour, musical sequences and razzle dazzle.
Kids may not notice. Adults? Even Adam Sandler fans? Will definitely notice.
Director Genndy Tartakovsky, who also directed Hotel Transylvania and Hotel Transylvania 2, has spent the better part of two films not so subtly exploring tolerance via lessons about monsters and the human beings that they fear. In Summer Vacation, the script is flipped and those same lessons in tolerance get checked through the lens of Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), whose role as the captain of one seriously monster cruise ship brings her in close contact with monsters extraordinaire including Vlad (Adam Sandler), Mavis (Selena Gomez, Mavis's very human hubby Johnny (Andy Samberg), and their human offpsring Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) along with the usual assortment and familiar faces from the other Hotel Transylvania films largely voiced by Sandler's usual communal assortment of comrades in comedy.
As it turns out, Ericka just happens to be a Van Helsing, of the apparently vampire hating Van Helsings, and the granddaughter of the legendary Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), whose earlier in life encounter with a younger Vlad ended not so well for Van Helsing.
Sworn to revenge, Van Helsing gets his chance when Mavis misinterprets her father's romantic loneliness, "you only get zing in your life," for being overworked and arranges for a long needed family vacation which inevitably includes familiar pals such as Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), Wolf Man (Steve Buscemi), the Invisible Man (David Spade), Frank (Kevin James) and a host of others. For the most part, none of the vocal work distinguishes itself with the exception of a couple of clever bits involving Joe Jonas's crooning Kraken and Jaime Camill's suave Chupacabra.
The original Hotel Transylvania picked up a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Feature, though the series overall has always been saddled with fair-to-middling reviews despite Sandler's unusually invested vocal work giving no indication of his otherwise operating in cruise control during these Netflix years in his occasionally brilliant, frequently frustrating Hollywood career.
However, Hotel Transylvania 3 feels like it could be early Sandler, think Billy Madison, or, at its most stale, another one of Sandler's consistently awful Netflix films. This film's humor goes from inventive to sophomoric, jokes mostly falling flat and seldom worth more than a chuckle while the use of music, particularly in the film's climactic confrontation, is so committedly retro that it renders itself laughably irrelevant.
The most interesting parts of this Hotel Transylvania are the side players, though they are mostly cast aside in favor of far too much time devoted to Vlad's inexplicable zing with Ericka, the aforementioned woman who is committed to his destruction. Sandler has always committed himself to a rather goofy vocalization, in both animation and live action, when he swoons, and that goofy vocal work here is distracting and particularly ineffective. The fact that it takes the focus off of other far more interesting, entertaining characters only serves to make matters worse.
Tartakovsky's sharp-lined animation style still works wonders here, the film's rather uniquely set locale inspiring visually and offering more than enough opportunities for creative sight gags. Unfortunately, Hotel Transylvania 3 mostly squanders these opportunities and the film sinks faster than the Lost City of Atlantis.
In a world where the vast majority of America passes by high quality family cinema like Paddington 2, one of the year's very best films, in favor of irrelevant eye candy and techno distraction, it's easy to expect that Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation will win that box-office war. Heck, in this day and age it's hard to argue with a hit 'em over the head lesson provided at kiddie level on tolerance and embracing differences. However, while the first two Hotel Transylvania films were reasonably pleasant delights for kids and the moms and dads who bought the tickets, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is a mostly kids only vacation while mom and dad get sedated and sleep through it all.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic