Director Genndy Tartakovsky’s Hotel Transylvania and Hotel Transylvania 2 spend much of their running times focused on monsters and humans trying to move past their fears of each other. In the first film, Dracula (Adam Sandler) comes to accept the continued presence of Johnny (Andy Samberg) at his monsters-only hotel once his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), “zings” with the dopey Californian, while in the sequel, Dracula is forced to come to terms with the possibility that his grandson, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), may not be a vampire. In the series’s latest entry, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, the burden of confronting a long familial history of fearing the “other” shifts onto Ericka van Helsing (Kathryn Hahn), the human captain of the monster cruise ship upon which most of the film takes place.
The change of venue allows for a fresh batch of visual gags, more elaborate set pieces, and a frenzied animation style that’s more akin to a Looney Tunes short in its sheer zaniness. Hotel Transylvania 3, however, replicates far too many of its predecessors’ narrative beats, merely flipping the script to examine intolerance from the human side of the equation, as the centuries-old hatred at the center of this film stems not from Dracula’s father, Vlad (Mel Brooks), but from Ericka’s own paterfamilias, the famous vampire slayer Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan). And the uninspired way in which Tartakovsky explores the same theme also extends to the humor, which relies more heavily on stale, infantile comedy, from monster vomit to vampire farts.
The strength of this series lies almost entirely in its ensemble of voice actors, yet the new film is so singularly focused on Dracula’s suddenly burgeoning love life that many of the cast members who provided the biggest laughs in the previous films, particularly Steve Buscemi, Keegan-Michael Key, and Kevin James, are often sidelined to make room for a belabored, downright treacly romance. Chris Parnell, who plays a half-man, half-fish character, offers up an amusing rendition of Macklemore’s “Downtown” at one point, but all of the newcomers are mainly tasked with coasting on their recognizable voices.
There are only so many monster-centric jokes to be made before they become toothless, and only so many ways to preach tolerance before it sounds more like blunt moralizing. Once Ericka and Dracula proclaim that it’s time to start a new “monster-human legacy,” one wonders if the filmmakers forgot that this legacy was already formed in the previous films in the series. Once we get to Hotel Transylvania 3’s extended finale—a battle between Val Helsing and Dracula where the weapons are the twin forces of EDM and the “good vibes” of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and “La Macarena”—it becomes clear that the most merciful act for this series may simply be a stake through the heart.