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Third Time’s a Charmer

When it comes to animated sequels, usually Disney and DreamWorks remind us that franchises sometimes need to be given entry after entry in effort to squeeze every available cent out of the movie-going public. Sony gets my vote for 3rd place on this trend. They aren’t quite as vocal as the other two about it but if you look carefully at their properties, the more profitable ones tend to sneak out multiple entries.

That brings us to Hotel Transylvania – the 2012 surprise hit that managed to earn $358-million on a budget of $85-mill, spawned an even more successful 2015 sequel ($474-mil against an $80-million budget), a 2D animated series and now a 2018 third feature film that managed to make even more! The budget here was again $80-million but the film returned $528-million worldwide. In case math isn’t your strong suit allow us to put it another way: This franchise is not going to stop any time soon.

Once again the cast is simply star studded, featuring the returning voices of Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Asher Blinkoff, Chris Parnell and Mel Brooks but they’ve managed to add even more talent in the form of Jim Gaffigan, Kathryn Hahn, Chrissy Teigen and Joe Jonas to the roster. Given the nature of making an animated film (essentially doing an audio-play that is then animated around after), it makes sense for director and co-writer Genndy Tartakovsky to stick with what’s worked with him from the first film onward. No sense in fixing what isn’t broken and the third entry to the HT universe is proof of the process becoming a well-oiled machine.

The story this time finds Drac is depressed and lonely after the departure of his wife Martha that leads him into the truly scary world of online dating. Misinterpreting her father’s reaction to being caught “swiping left” as stress from overwork, Mavis decides to book a cruise so that the monsters can spend a little quality time bonding somewhere away from the hotel. From there it’s a hilarious direct flight upon “Gremlin Airlines” to the Bermuda Triangle where the cast of misfits boards the cruise ship Legacy. A reluctant-to-be-away Drac is expectedly frumpy until he happens upon the Legacy’s human captain, Ericka, and immediately falls for her, something that he thought was impossible as he “zinged”, the monster equivalent of one true love, with Martha.

Critically the third film seems to have earned the most mixed reviews to date despite it being the most successful entry of the series. I, for one, appreciate what Tartakovsky accomplished in taking the cast away from the macabre setting of Transylvania and depositing them in an environment about as far removed (a tropical cruise) as possible. This tactic often proves disastrous; dependent upon gimmicks and gags rather than character-driven dynamic humor but again, sticking with the same director and comedic powerhouse cast was a very wise decision on Sony’s behalf.

Of course the downside to sticking with the proven formula is that if you weren’t a fan of what the series has accomplished so far, it’s unlikely this one’s going to change your mind. Perhaps, save for a surprise ending, the plot itself is the thinnest of the trio and relies heaviest upon the characters to do the heavy lifting. Prepare for spoofs of a Vegas show, a heated monster pool volley ball match, a taste of the Drac/ Van Helsing feud (with some comical steam-punk action for good measure) and even a trip to the lost city of Atlantis before all is said and done. Strangely, though a lot happens when writing it out like this, it never feels muddled in delivery. The idea of the gang taking a vacation manages to provide a nice cadence for all of the antics that follow.

All in all, Hotel Transylvania 3, which I should point out also goes by the titles Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation and Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation depending upon where you live, is an enjoyable reunion with all of the characters that made the first two films so endearing. It plays it safe but manages to introduce just enough new material (via setting and additional characters/ romances) to keep things from feeling like a retread.

The first film focused on Mavis and Johnny’s love, the second their family and third, well the third comes full circle to Drac on the prowl and Mavis looking out for her father. Consider the Bermuda shorts and mankinis a bonus.