Dependably bright and brash, the “Hotel Transylvania” series would earn a solid two stars on your favorite travel website. The films offer standard, family friendly comfort, without any of the luxe amenities — gorgeous animation, attention to detail, deeper themes — of its more ambitious competition. “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” delivers more of the same entertaining fare, and isn’t that why people love hotel chains — and franchise films?
Dracula (voice of Adam Sandler) may be a vampire, but he still experiences very human feelings. After the death of his wife (by angry mob, naturally) more than a century earlier, he longs for a lady to make him “zing,” the monster equivalent of falling in love. Mistaking his loneliness for stress from running the hotel, his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) surprises him with a vacation on a monster cruise in the Bermuda Triangle (of course).
An unsuspecting Drac is immediately smitten by the ship’s captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), the great-granddaughter of Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan). She wants Dracula gone just like her ancestors did, but he’s oblivious to her threat. Ericka schemes a trip to Atlantis where she’ll awaken the Kraken (Joe Jonas, obviously), pitting monster against monster to ensure our undead hero and all his creepy pals — including reanimated Frank (Kevin James), werewolf dad Wayne (Steve Buscemi), invisible man Griffin (David Spade) and mummy Murray (Keegan-Michael Key) — are actually dead.
Animation veteran Genndy Tartakovsky returns to the director’s chair for a third time, and co-wrote the script with Michael McCullers (“The Boss Baby”). The focus is as scattered as Wayne’s wild werewolf brood, practically forgetting about Drac’s son-in-law Johnny (Andy Samberg) and beloved grandson, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), the second film’s center, in favor of continuous gags. Not every joke lands, but there’s so much silliness that kids and like-minded adults will get in plenty of giggles.
None of the filmmakers — or the kids in its core demo — are likely considering the gender politics of the franchise, but the “Hotel Transylvania” films take a subtle, regressive approach to funny women. Sure, Gomez gets billing, but she’s the straight woman among a male cast that would otherwise be the lineup at a comedy festival. Fran Drescher and Molly Shannon are back in minor roles, but they fade into the brightly designed backgrounds. And really, when else have these flamboyant actresses failed to make an impression?
Bringing on the often hilarious Hahn for this trip should have balanced the scales a bit, but she’s nowhere near as deserving of laughter here as she’s been elsewhere, particularly in “Bad Moms.” Little girls like fart jokes too, and hearing a female voice being just as funny as all the dudes could be an oddly empowering moment for an aspiring comedian.
Inadvertent sexism aside, the intentions of “Hotel Transylvania 3” are pure. As with its predecessors, it teaches kids a message of inclusion: despite their fangs, fur or ability to give birth to gelatinous spawn via puking, monsters are people too.
Sandler is often known for his crass, crude humor, but there’s a real sweetness alongside the silliness underlining his performances in films like “The Wedding Singer” and “50 First Dates.” That combination is present not only in Drac’s character but also in these films as a whole. “Hotel Transylvania 3” may lack the indelibility of the medium’s best offerings for kids, but hopefully its clear theme of acceptance lingers long after the inoffensive odor of its fart jokes dissipates.
‘Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation’
Rated: PG, for some action and rude humor
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: In general release