Between the goofy humor, Adam Sandler’s hallmark gibberish and an unfortunate return of "The Macarena," "Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation" houses an unexpectedly affecting story of modern love with a creaky vampire dad.
The newest installment of the animated comedy series with old-school monster favorites sends sulky hotelier Dracula (voiced by Sandler), his friends and their families on a crazy creature cruise to the lost city of Atlantis. Again directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, "Summer Vacation" (★★½ out of four; rated PG; in theaters nationwide Friday) is as confidently silly as it is wholly predictable — not that your average little kid is going to mind one bit grooving to "Don’t Worry Be Happy."
The "Hotel Transylvania" franchise always throws emotional hooks into its child-friendly shenanigans. The first film was about Drac coming to grips with daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) falling for fun-loving human dude Johnny (Andy Samberg), while the second centered on Drac worrying that his grandson wouldn’t have enough vampire in him.
The big issue this time? Drac is sullen and lonely because he hasn’t had a date in 100 years, and the witchy matches on his dating app just aren’t giving him the right “zing” (monster lingo for love at first sight). To boost his mood, Mavis surprises Drac with a trip. His pals Frankenstein (Kevin James), mummy Murray (Keegan-Michael Key) and invisible man Griffin (David Spade) are all about the downtime, but Drac is skeptical until he meets the ship’s captain, acrobatic and effervescent Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), and, boy, does he zing.
Unbeknownst to Drac, Ericka is the great-granddaughter of his greatest enemy, obsessive monster hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), and she’s taken on the family mission of killing the A-list vamp. It leads to a lot of misunderstandings and escapades where Ericka attempts to take him out and Drac sees it as high-level flirting.
Mavis distrusts her single father’s new match, and that leads to some of the film’s deeper messages about parental life. There’s a definite we’re-all-the-same, monsters-are-people-too vibe, but what really works is the undercurrent of Mavis struggling with Drac finding romance again after her mom’s death while Ericka herself questions the family business. It’s not all serious, though: One priceless moment comes when werewolf couple Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (Molly Shannon), who have dozens of energetic pups, learn about the wonders of daycare.
The movie is a Frankenstein’s monster of cobbled-together scenes: Most are so-so slapsticky sequences but some are really clever, like the action-packed opening prologue showing Drac and Van Helsing’s 19th-century rivalry that’s a Looney Tunes spin on classic Dracula movies.
More than its predecessors, "Summer Vacation" might as well be "My First Horror Flick," with its boundless array of crazy beasts aimed at a younger set, yet still delightful to oldsters. Rude gremlins pilot the main characters’ flight to the Bermuda Triangle (a nod to the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" episode of "The Twilight Zone"), the supporting cast includes chupacabras as well as fish concierges with human feet, and a singing kraken (Joe Jonas, in a bit of stunt casting) factors into the madcap musical finale.
"Hotel Transylvania" already had a foothold on keeping classic monsters somewhat relevant for a new generation of movie fans. But by putting a stake in contemporary relationships, too, it broadens the appeal for the moms and dads who get dragged along.