Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

4 out of 5

Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky

Yes, this rating is relative to the series – Hotel Transylvania 3 is the best of the bunch, although credit certainly goes to the prior to for setting the basis for the tone and characters – but this is also a fun, inventive movie on its own terms, especially if you’re viewing this as an animation extravaganza; not every animated flick needs to have the heart and soul of Up or Toy Story if it manages to be a fun blend of smartly silly and entertaining throughout, and HT3 meets and exceeds that almost from start to finish.  It’s a bit crowded for story, with maybe one plot wrinkle or two too many, but whereas director Genndy Tartakovsky brought an animator’s energy to the original, and then grew more confident and controlled with that in the sequel, “Summer Vacation,” as the first sequel co-scripted by him as well is now fully in his “style,” bringing classic hand-drawn sensibilities to an uncanney valley of CGI; that is, these computer-articulated characters move and look completely unlike any other prior CGI movie, and the direction and pacing is in line with that.

There are hints of this throughout, but the comparison can be made via something as dumb as how fart jokes are expressed: Robert Smigel / Adam Sandler scripts for HT one and two are of a more typically overt variety, with big, visual explosions of flatulence – whereas Genndy has Drac eat some garlic-smothered guacamole and ashamedly apologize to his date (Van Helsing’s granddaughter – this being the hitch of the plot) when he oh-so-quietly toots.  It’s comparatively “cute” story moment as opposed to going for easy kid laughs.  And then there’s the more indirect stuff, such as how every downbeat of this flick is packed with some sort of visual flair, just because; because that’s how it’s dumb in an animator’s world.  The whole hotel gang has gone on a vacation cruise organized by Mavis (on which Drac “zings” with Erika, the aforementioned monster-hating descendant of monster-hating Van Helsing), and as we cut from humorous boat activity to boat activity, maybe there’s a scene where a witch zaps herself into a dayglo outfit; maybe there’s a scene in which the Dracula family all does a silly walk insync down the length of the ship.  Why?  Because it fits the rhythm of the movie; it’s a visual titter.  And it’s gloriously entertaining.

This is also the first HT movie in which Genndy’s affinity for having his characters dance finally clicks: when we’re not married to some generic soundtrack-selling pop tune for these sequences, and we can use tunes that feel more purposefully selected, not only are the jigs all the amusingly shaped and animated characters do pretty funny, but the scenes can be better narratively worked into the movie (whether that’s for an actual story purpose – Drac and Blobby dancing out of the way of the Van Helsing’s attempts at, y’know, killing them – or for, again, perfecting the “flow” of scene to scene).

So there’s no moment in this entry where we have to slow down for the story to justify itself, which the prior two films – scripted by non-animators – struggled with.  However, the exchange is that Genndy almost goes the opposite way, over-developing the Van Helsing kill-Dracula plot to involve an Atlantean prophesy which, sure, builds into a pretty spectacular ending sequence, but the story still reaches a point where you’re wondering why we’re getting these extra details.

Each Hotel Transylvania entry has surprised me for how far Genndy has been able to push the animation.  After the impressive Looney Tunes antics and design of the second film, I was honestly expecting – and wouldn’t have been disappointed by – more of the same, here, but Summer Vacation managed to completely surpass that and set a high bar for the next HT (or any other animated flick…) to beat.