“Hotel Transylvania 3” proves that you can both check out of and leave the titular resort, even if you wind up, as Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) peevishly observes, at what amounts to a hotel on a boat.
“Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” sees the “Drac pack” relaxing aboard a cruise ship. And while no one’s going to mistake this franchise for Pixar, returning director Genndy Tartakovsky (“Samurai Jack”) keeps the slapstick coming at enough of a relentless pace to make this animated sequel a midsummer delight.
(There’s something to be said for a monster movie that manages to work in three separate dance numbers, one of which involves springing deadly traps in an undersea ruin.)
Dracula and his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) have been working shoulder-to-shoulder in the hospitality biz, but running the hotel has kept them both so busy that they barely get any time to hang out (in bat form, or otherwise). A TV ad inspires Mavis to surprise her dad with a luxury cruise for monsters that starts at the Bermuda Triangle and winds up at Atlantis. So the whole troupe packs up for a leisurely voyage.
Unbeknownst to everyone, the ship’s captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn) is the great-granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), who has unsuccessfully devoted his life to ridding the world of monsters. In one of the film’s more heavily-played bits of irony, old man Van Helsing’s lifetime of hate has made him quite monstrous himself, with his head sticking out of a life-support contraption that looks like the steampunk version of Captain Pike’s wheelchair.
Complications arise when the long-widowed Dracula feels a “zing” (monster love at first sight) for Ericka, who’s committed to destroy him. Mavis has a bad feeling about this mortal, and Dracula doesn’t want Mavis to know he’s fallen in love again. And that’s about it for plot, until we get to a big showdown that involves the elder Van Helsing, a kraken (Joe Jonas), and a DJ battle with Mavis’ husband Johnny (Andy Samberg) that pits EDM (provided by Tiësto) against vintage Top 40 favorites.
Screenwriters Tartakovsky and Michael McCullers (“The Boss Baby”) cram the rest of the running time with pratfalls and sight gags that give the movie the anarchic energy of Mad magazine and the better Looney Tunes shorts. From the literally prickly wedding that kicks off the film (both bride and groom shoot out spikes when they get emotional) to something as silly as the flapping sound that people make when they walk quickly in scuba fins, “Hotel Transylvania 3” always goes for the joke and rarely misses.
And while it seems strange to use terms like “character-based humor” in this context, the film does build on what we know about these lovable creatures, whether it’s the werewolves (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon) getting to drop off their many, many children at the ship’s daycare to enjoy themselves for once — hint: a tennis ball is involved — to the many wacky visual permutations of the Blob. This is a kiddie sequel that seems to be building on previous chapters rather than merely repeating them.
“Hotel Transylvania 3” might be aimed at kids, but adults will chuckle at jokes like an airline run entirely by gremlins or an enormous pet who passes for human strictly by wearing a hat and an overcoat. And let’s not forget that this is the best of the Sandler franchises, one where his homilies about the importance of family and of being understanding of others actually land. (“Grown-Ups 2” simultaneously bullied and preached against bullying long before our current FLOTUS picked up that baton.)
While the aforementioned DJ battle will result in many viewers getting a song stuck in their head that they hoped would never again get stuck in their head, “Hotel Transylvania 3” otherwise goes down easy. Pretend you’re on the Lido deck, loosen those knots in your shoulders, and enjoy the voyage.