Vampires and summer cruises do not seem like they’d be compatible, but somehow these disparate pieces come together to form a fun family film for these long summer days.
The third entry into the ‘Hotel Transylvania’ series starts out with a flashback. While the greatest enemies to Dracula (a surprisingly tolerable Adam Sandler) have typically been humanity in general, the sun, or the horror of watching his little daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) grow into a woman, this time around we’re reminded of the true enemy of monsters: Van Helsing. While the legendary monster hunter (Jim Gaffigan) turns out to be hilariously bad at hunting monsters and Dracula is almost immortal, some tension builds seeing Van Helsing’s first attempt on Dracula’s “life.” But then another failure, followed by another, turns into a lighthearted montage which turns the famous vampire into the Road Runner to Van Helsing’s Coyote. It’s fun.
Jumping to present day, Dracula is running his busy hotel, with Mavis by his side. The grind is getting to him, but he generally likes what he does. Mavis sees that they’re long overdue for a vacation so she books the family and all of their friends onto a cruise from the Bermuda Triangle to the lost city of Atlantis. First up is the flight on Gremlin Airlines.
This is exactly why the ‘Hotel Transylvania’ series does as well as it does. The franchise includes plenty of horror and old Hollywood references that are fun for the grown-up kids in the audience, and does so with an awareness of the history of cinema and television. The Sony Animation team does a good job of staying within the context of this rich history, which saves these references from being merely nostalgia trips or empty winks at an audience it doesn’t try to understand. In having an airline run by gremlins, the kids watching it get to laugh at the funny monsters tearing up the plane, and the older viewers get to laugh at the ‘Twilight Zone’ references, and they all hope the plane makes it safely to the destination.
As you can imagine, all sorts of family fun and a little danger happen over the course of the rest of the film. Dracula struggles with some loneliness over not having romance in his life, and Van Helsing may or may not reappear too. It’s the kind of amusing but low stakes plot you come to expect from a movie made for younger kids.
One new character introduced is Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), the captain of the cruise ship. Ericka has a lot going on in terms of her incompatible loyalties to her job, her family, and herself, and the film fumbles the complexities. Hahn’s performance itself is perfectly fine, but it can be difficult to figure out the character’s motivations at any given moment.
Overall, ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ is an easy movie for summer vacation. It contains no real scares, but it’s fun enough for monster kids of all ages.