Good Vibrations: Our Review Of ‘Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 12, 2018
Good Vibrations: Our Review Of ‘Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation’

There is no drama without conflict. That’s why our most beloved stories feature long-running feuds. The Empire will always hunt the Rebellion, Decepticons will always despise Autobots, and the Van Helsing/Count Dracula blood feud won’t end until one side is wiped out. So, when director Genndy Tartakovsky inserts Van Helsing into Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, we know where the story is headed. Or do we? Summer Vacation takes the series’ motley crew of creatures and places them on a getaway cruise while Dracula’s nemesis, Van Helsing, plots their demise. What follows is a silly yet affecting tale of monsters, beasts, and abominations forging the most human of connections.

 Right out the gate, we’re introduced to Dracula’s (Adam Sandler) storied nemesis, Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan). In a brief flashback, Dracula and the gang dress up like humans to sneak onboard a steam engine. Van Helsing begins like a worthy adversary, he sniffs the monsters out and pursues them through the train. In a thrilling sequence not unlike a scene from The Incredibles, the dexterous camera tracks the monsters onto the train’s roof for a high-speed chase that culminates with a joke montage. The scene keeps skipping forward in time, showing Van Helsing attacking Dracula and Dracula defeating him again and again and again and again. Dracula humiliates him smugly and with so little effort that it’s like watching the Road Runner own Wile E. Coyote. In a few brief moments, Tartakovsky establishes Van Helsing’s hatred for Dracula and we get everything we need to know about the feud.

Fast forward 100 years and eating humans is no longer on Dracula’s mind. He runs a successful hotel with his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and business is booming. Perhaps too booming. Dracula’s go-go-go schedule is taking a toll on him. Part of it, though, is that he is lonely, and staying busy helps him fill that void. Thinking her dad needs some rest, Mavis books him a surprise vacation. The entire Hotel Transylvania gang (werewolves, blobs, witches and all) head off to a cruise ship where they’ll Monster Mash their nights away en route to their getaway resort, Atlantis. But all isn’t what it seems. Van Helsing is still alive, barely. He’s half-man half-machine, just arms and a head stuck to a steampunk mechanical torso. His great-granddaughter Ericka (Kathryn Hahn) is the ship’s captain and his secret weapon. They plan on catching Dracula off-guard while he vacations and finally destroying him.

There’s a running joke in pop culture that says when a TV show or film series runs out of ideas (or when the writers grow lazy) they relocate. Hotel Transylvania 3’s summer vacation hook would be hokey in another series (Hello Jason X) but it fits this series’ trajectory like a glove. It’s cool that this story transplants these hotel-bound characters to present a larger view of the world. But this significance of this expansion runs deeper. Hotel Transylvania began as a story about Dracula walling off and protecting himself, physically and emotionally. Here, the extended family of outcasts step outside their comfort zone. It’s a fantastic premise for the characters and a natural journey for their stunted personalities. Dracula was a man who wouldn’t dip his toes into the waters of change, but here, he’s taking a giant plunge.

Like the previous two films, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation keeps the jokes coming in rapid-fire succession. Most films cut between scenes with long steady establishing shots, but not here. Hotel Transylvania fires off sight gags like a 1920’s gangster firing off a Tommy gun. It feels like no matter where the camera casts its gaze it finds something bizarre to capture. It’s sweet watching a werewolf husband and wife play fetch together on a beach. I loved seeing The Chupacabra (a great urban legend) brought to life. The Spanish accented Chupacabra orders a drink and the bartender plops a goat inside his glass. Priceless. And while a few corny jokes slip in — the Frankenstein monster losing an arm and a leg gambling — most jokes are worthy of at least a chuckle. And I’m speaking as an adult. Expect riotous laughter from kids because Adam Sandler loves fart jokes.

They don’t make big-budget animated kids movies without including a strong moral message. But there’s always been something about Hotel Transylvania’s themes that resonate with me. I’m a sucker for outcasts, freaks, and monsters, so I’m an easy sell for this series. But it’s deeper than that. Tartakovsky uses these monsters as a metaphor for isolation, fear, and loneliness. Throughout the series, Dracula fears being hurt, losing a child, and facing change. These monster movies for kids discuss powerful themes and deliver them in a way that resonates with all ages. But what I admire most about these films is the message of love and acceptance at their core. There is a moment in Summer Vacation when love, friendship, and joy literally battle fear, anger, and isolation. In 2018, these series’ themes are as relevant and necessary as ever.

If you’re not a fan of the first two movies, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation won’t win you over. But if the first two entries are your cup of tea go ahead and order your ticket now cause you’re in for some fun. The film maintains the series’ distinct charm, delivers nonstop jokes, and with Atlantis, offers an exciting look at a new corner of the Hotel Transylvania universe. And beyond the fart jokes, campiness, and flashy set pieces, Hotel Transylvania 3 stands out for using monsters to covertly discuss family, empathy, and human connection.

This post was written by
Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).
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