‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ Proves Family Is Important for Monsters and Humans Alike

The third installment in the “Hotel Transylvania” series begins with a cinematic moment long treasured in movie history: a perilous chase across the roof of a fast moving train. It has been a cinematic tradition since Buster Keaton’s “The General” and continued through any number of James Bond movies and as recently as “Paddington 2.” The chase in “Hotel Transylvania 3” happens at night (because they’re monsters) and with a warm nostalgia (because it’s the late 1800’s).

Designed and animated with director Genndy Tartakovsky at the helm, monsters in disguise are outed by the obsessive monster hunter Abraham Van Helsing. Count Dracula pushes his friends from the train to face Van Helsing alone. Unlike previous Dracula tales, this one ends badly for Van Helsing, as does every subsequent confrontation through the years as shown in a quick montage until Van Helsing disappears for good … or so it seems.

Anyone familiar with the previous chapters of Sony’s animated series, which stars family-friendly versions of Universal’s archetypal movie monsters, understands that there is no issue more important to these tales (or tails) than family. Like an undead “Fiddler on the Roof,” the Count must come to terms with his daughter Mavis’ attraction, love and marriage to non-monster Johnny, a surfer dude and DJ. In “Hotel Transylvania 2,” the conflict centers on their firstborn son. By this third sequel, nearly everyone has children (just ask the werewolf couple who are raising a village of them). And widower Dracula feels lonely and left out.

Daughter Mavis decides that Dad needs a vacation and books the entire Monster crew on a cruise through the Bermuda Triangle to the lost continent of Atlantis for fun in the moon, restful relaxation and gourmet delights.

What Mavis doesn’t count on is that lonely dad unexpectedly feels the “zing,” the monster equivalent of love at first sight. He goes positively loopy for ship’s captain, Erica. But what no one counts on, including Dad, is that this same ship’s captain is the great great granddaughter of none other than Abraham Van Helsing. But the heart wants what it wants even if it can only lead to the demise of the entire monster clan.

Stunning and detailed in its design, the train chase may be old Hollywood but their ultimate destination, Atlantis, is pure Las Vegas. Bright lights with a neon milieu, Atlantis boasts an epic sea monster with elements of Vegas Rat Pack, gangster rap and novelty pop.

Unfortunately, the character animation can sometimes be over the top at the worst times. With roots in Tex Avery and Mad Magazine, “Hotel Transylvania 3” goes beyond even their frenetic style. Why just 1 or 2 crazy reactions when the animators can cram 4 or even 5 into the same moment. Does the fear of bored children really require bouncing faces with every line of dialogue? Are they trying too hard to be cute?

Well-voiced by a who’s who of comedians, the cast includes Adam Sandler (Dracula), Selena Gomez (Mavis), Andy Samberg (Johnny), as well as many others. The stand out is Mel Brooks as Dracula’s womanizing father Vlad, an aged Nosferatu lookalike. There are also a couple of unfortunate voice talents that come close to ethnic stereotypes.

Without spoiling the ending, “Hotel Transylvania 3” follows the lead of many other animated family films by bringing music and dance into the climatic sequence of the film. While most other films tend to focus on one catchy number, “3” gives you a range of choices. And they are good choices. Going purposely downhill with each choice, the movie never loses sight of its need to entertain. They may be corny tunes but they are fun.

With as many different types of monsters that populate this film, how can diversity and acceptance not be the message of this movie? Family was also the message of “Bride of Frankenstein” but that didn’t end well. “Hotel Transylvania 3” is much more upbeat and a better message for its children-oriented audience. Monsters not only need vacations but they need family.

Hotel Transylvania 3” opens July 13 in theaters everywhere.