I tried to avoid starting this review with the old man adage “back in my day”, but I can think of no other way to describe the latest and third in the Hotel Transylvania series of films but to say, back in my day after an animated did well for a studio, it always felt the need to make a sequel but they also understood that the direct-to-video treatment was warranted. Lately though it seems more and more that if it is cheaper to make an animated film than it used to be and you can acquire all the original famous voice actors again, then why not go back to the big screen? In some cases this approach works, most noticeably the Ice Age films which have dominated in their run with an epic 6 billion in revenue, just let that sink in… 6 billion since the first film in 2002. That is pretty incredible. Since then studios have been trying to replicate its success along with the Despicable Me franchise. Animator great Genndy Tartakovsky who started in the early 90’s hey-day of animation with Batman: The Animated Series, Tiny Toons, Power Puff Girls, and Dexter’s Laboratory, eventually created the fantastic Samurai Jack. His first feature animated film was the 2012 Hotel Transylvania and the underrated sequel follow up a few years later. Well it’s been three years and we are presented with Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation.
Dracula (Adam Sandler) has been through the raising of his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), her marriage to Johnny (Adam Samberg) and the birth of their son Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) now his daughter thinks it’s time for a getaway from his ‘after-life’ and his job as the owner of his monster hotel. So she books him and his gruesome crew including Griffin (David Spade), Frank (Kevin James), Murray (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wayne (Steve Buscemi) on an ocean cruise. Which is run by Ericka (Kathryn Hahn) who is related to the vampire hunter Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) and together they try to kill the un-killable Count, all while he is trying to connect with Ericka on a romantic level.
So even though the whole gang is back with added comedians like Gaffigan and Hahn in the mix, the one thing missing is the writers who gave life to this den of creatures that made them funny the first couple go rounds. Writer Michael McCullers fills the film with some clever gags, fails on the one crucial front which made the previous films work and that’s heart. That’s what took this series from simply putting these movie monsters in humorous situations to something more. The relationships between fathers and daughters, then fathers and sons and the idea of legacy and the pressure it can put on a family goes down better with the goofy potty jokes. Here there is none of that aside from the fart jokes. Tartakovsky and his team strive for the rom-com formula but it comes off like those unknown guy meets a girl movies you find on Netflix. Following the perspective of the villains also fails to land and we end up wondering why these monsters that we grew attached to are even here when they are given virtually nothing to do. There is a grandness to Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation but it just doesn’t know how to get there with this type of story. Tartakovsky needs to go back to the drawing board and stick to what works, because he doesn’t have his version of Minions that can branch off to their own movie. So even if Sandler and co. end up sleepwalking through three more of these, if they want to avoid the quality of those Disney direct-to-video sequels they need to get off the boat and back into the hotel that made these classic monsters fun in the first place.