Whether you love or hate the hijinks-driven Hotel Transylvania animated saga, director Genndy Tartakovsky has his undeniable signature over the critical mixed-bag of a franchise. As a young adult animation fan with an inner child spirit, I am partial to the works of Tartakovsky, the legendary animator who lead the likes of Star Wars: Clone Wars and his magus opus Samurai Jack on Cartoon Network — both for kids, though comparatively more mature than the Hotel Transylvania films. Although in a commercialized spectrum of family films, Hotel Transylvania distinguishes itself from the likes of Pixar or Dreamworks for character psychology with its own unapologetic flair for kinetic 2D-like movement and rubbery-style CGI. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is the latest franchise installment (co-written by Tartakovsky) with amped-up Hanna-Barbera touches. I wouldn’t complain about Tartakovsky having more creative freedom, but he seems oddly too restrained here rather than in his element.
Dating back to 2012, the previous films were never well-adhesive in the first place, and this sequel is no exception. But the characters were so energetic with genuine familial camaraderie that the story zippiness can be forgivable or even part of the fun — and it can mine emotional sincerity even through commercially calculated pathos that’s obligatory in most manufactured family pictures.
In Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, Dracula (who resembles his cartoonified voice actor Adam Sandler in a cloak) and his family are back for a cruise. Seeing her father frazzled from running his ghoul-populated hotel, the vamp daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) books them all a cruise. Continuing some of the human-monsters tensions established from the first movie, Dracula falls in love at first sight (zing, as the monster jargon goes) with the ship’s Captain Erika (Kathryn Hahn, who has a lot of fun with the role), but little does he know that she’s monsterphobic and plotting his murder.
There is some amusement to be found in the adventure, such as a rickety plane ride piloted by gremlins and gags of monsters and creatures interacting with human objects, almost worthy of a succession of amusing shorts. A noteworthy one is the werewolf couple (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon) discovering a daycare to deposit their massively-numbered rambunctious litters of pups and aghast at the freedom they are offered without the weight of children. And hey, there’s a kraken voiced by Joe Jonas who sings about 40 seconds of the swankiest tune to boot. The adventurous scope has enlarged considerably with a more expansive locational breath, with travels to mystical worlds, from a waterfall chasm of the Bermuda Triangle to a temple beneath the Atlantis floor.
But for all of Tartakovsky’s customarily maximalist gifts, the film does not feel as creatively charged or his vision just seems hyperactive for the sake of hyperactivity to the point of exhausting itself. Tartakovsky appears to be freewheeling the material to visual excess. Even for the standards of the Hotel Transylvania series, the world-building feels logistically all over the place. The romance between Dracula and a homicidal Captain steams with potential but doesn’t even exploit the masochistic tango opportunities — ok, there is literally one death trap romantic tango scene, but that’s just about as memorable as it gets.
At least the third act partakes in the surges of Tartakovsky’s vision, and it’s hard not to get swept into the ruckus of musicality — but that’s only a shadow of the music eclecticism that made Samurai Jack sing. In conclusion, this movie is such a hot mess despite some playful, yet unproductive, vision. For all the music that Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation offers, it amounts to a one-note production.
Caroline Cao (@Maximinalist) is a queer Vietnamese-Houstonian Earthling surviving under the fickle weather of New York. When not angsting over her first poetry manuscript or her MFA memoir project, she is cooking her own Chinese food instead of buying take-out and dreaming of winning Hamilton lotto tickets. Carol has lent her wit and pop culture love to Birth Movies Death, The Mary Sue, Bitch, Film School Rejects and Indiewire. She also runs a New York living blog and writing services.