Released: 28th June
Seen: 8th July
This year hasn’t exactly been great when it comes to family-friendly films, at least in my opinion. Be it films that were just forgettable like Nut Job 2, boring like Show Dogs, or seizure-inducing like Incredibles 2 it’s just felt like a lacklustre year for people who want to get their kids out of the house for a few hours and get them to watch a movie. While some good looking ones are coming out later in the year, since it’s around school holiday time there really needs to be an alternative out there for kids who aren’t interested in the boring or potentially having a seizure (No, I have no intent on ever letting go of what The Incredibles 2 thought they could get away with, I don’t care if I’m the only one pissed about it). Thank goodness that Hotel Transylvania 3 is out to give those people an option.
Following on from the previous two films, Hotel Transylvania 3: Monsters Vacation (known as Hotel Transylvania Summer Vacation in the US) continues shortly after the event’s of the last movie with Dracula (Voiced by Adam Sandler) and Mavis (Voiced by Selena Gomez) running the hotel together, planning weddings for people and trying to make the best of it but Drac is starting to feel lonely. Putting on major events for everyone else has made him start to come to terms with the idea that he’s been alone ever since his wife died, meaning he might never ‘zing’ with anyone else. ‘Zing’ being how the Hotel Transylvania franchise describes the feeling of love at first sight, something that only happens with one person (They hammer this idea in A LOT!). Determined to give her dad a break, Mavis decides to book a vacation for the family and all their friends. She books them on a special monster-only cruise, from the Bermuda Triangle to The Lost City Of Atlantis, on a ship captained by Ericka (Voiced by Kathryn Hahn) who Dracula starts falling for… however, what Dracula doesn’t know is that Ericka is the great-granddaughter of the legendary Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Voiced by Jim Gaffigan) and she is trying to help bring about the end of all monsters.
One of the things about the first two movies that always made them a little different was the complete lack of an actual antagonist for most of the films. The first one had the Quasimodo chef character but he was in maybe two scenes and isn’t actually that threatening. His only impact on the plot of the original was to tell everyone that Johnny (Voiced by Andy Samberg) was a human at roughly an hour into the film, at which point he finished being useful and vanished from the movie completely. The second film had Vlad (Voiced by Mel Brooks) turn up in the final half hour of the film and basically only have around 10 minutes of actually being an antagonist, he didn’t even really do anything in the climax. This film actually gives us an antagonist right off the bat in Van Helsing and his daughter Ericka, both of whom are intimidating but comical. The plot of the film has a lot more weight to it, at least in part, thanks to their inclusion. No longer are we watching a series of events happening in a hotel (Which was fun, but there’s a limit to how long that’ll work) and instead we actually get to see a plan unfold, we get to see characters with a goal that they strive for. Sure, it’s a plot that we’ve seen a dozen times (the bad guy needs a magic thing to make a different thing happen) but it’s still something and it helps give the film a strong structure to work around.
While the film has a good structure, it does have a few jokes that don’t really work if you’ve seen previous films. One of the previous films suggested that garlic would make Dracs throat close up, here it just makes him fart. Jokes that worked really well in part 2 don’t work as well here when they’re given a new context. To this films credit, it’s focussing a lot more on the story than anything else which makes it a lot more engaging than the other films, but the jokes aren’t as good as the previous ones are. There are some really clever ideas here though, silly things like The Lost City of Atlantis looking more like Atlantic City is an inspired touch that helps provide a lot of cute visual gags. Another cute visual gag? Literally, everything to do with Tinkles, the pet dog who was introduced in the short film Puppy! that was shown before The Emoji Movie, which I hope to god you never saw because no one deserves to have that film inflicted upon them. Any time that dog is on screen it’s adorable and hilarious, except when the fireworks scare it because then it’s just sad. Ideas like that are really good and give the film a real warmth, a warmth that it will squander with a bad fart joke when the time hits.
Speaking of things that are squandered, this movie brings back Mel Brooks from the last movie but barely uses him. This film certainly seemed to be a lot more about Dracula than the previous ones, which all had great moments for the main cast to shine and used the varied monsters to create some genuinely clever humour but this movie seems to not care about that. There’s a humorous subplot about the werewolf couple finally getting their kids into daycare and being able to have some actual fun, but then that’s abandoned at around the halfway point and isn’t brought up until the last 5 minutes or so. There’s a plotline about Frankenstein as a problem gambler (Cos he could lose an arm and a leg… get it?) but that’s barely touched on. This is the downside of that structure I talked about earlier, while it gives the film more weight, it sacrifices a lot of side characters to get to that. It’s a harsh trade-off to lose some great moments with the side characters in exchange for a genuinely good plot with some real stakes to it, but that’s the deal that’s been made here.
Visually, this film is a delight. The designs are just as perfect as always and they really have a good sensiblity for some good visual gags. The look of the Bermuda Triangle was gloriously elaborate and worked for the gag, as did Gremlin Airlines which was a fun little touch that I enjoyed. The visuals really do keep in line with the ones from the previous films, it’s not a huge jump in visual quality but they do keep it very consistent with the new locations. There are some great visual gags just in the set design and it feels like the world is so much bigger than it was in the other movies, particularly the main set of the ship. The ship set really has a scope to it that makes it easy to buy that the giant puppy could hide under some stairs, or that there’s a secret lair hidden on board. I also just have to praise the choice of music during the final scenes. I’m not going to spoil context or even what the music is, but I will state that the final 3 songs used in the movie create one of the biggest laughs in the entire film.
While this film isn’t truly great, it is goddamn good at what it’s doing. It’s got enough humour and warmth flowing through it that it can’t be denied how much fun it really is. It might not go down in history, but it’s a solid movie with a lot to enjoy and will be something that parents can see with their kids and enjoy just as much as the little ones do, and sometimes that’s the most important thing about a movie.