Everyone needs a vacation. Even vampires running hotels, it turns out.
As this third entry in the Hotel Transylvania franchise gets underway, young Mavis the vampire is worried about her dad, Dracula. You see, he just hasn’t been himself lately, and she thinks what he really needs is a break. A chance to get away from it all and unwind. So she starts plotting a way to make that happen.
Mavis is half right.
Ol’ Drac is struggling a bit. But not with overwork. No, ever since Mavis—the apple of daddy’s eye—got married to Johnny and had little Dennis, Dracula’s been feeling a little … lonely. Long-time widower Drac has love on his mind, even though he tells Mavis, “A zing [true love] only happens once in your life. You have to cherish it.”
Mavis doesn’t know what’s been eating at him, but his faithful friends Frank(enstein), Griffin the Invisible Man, Murray the Mummy and Wayne the Werewolf all know what the score is. So they start plotting, too … to find their friend a new “zing.”
That’s when Mavis unveils her plans. Drac and the gang are going on vacation: a monster cruise. What could be better, right? But Dracula’s not enthused: “Yeah, so impressive. It’s like … a hotel on the water.”
But the old vampire’s enthusiasm spikes a notch or four when he spies the ship’s captain: a vivacious, energetic woman named Erika.
Could it be a second chance at … zing?
Then again, sometimes zing isn’t everything it seems.
The Hotel Transylvania franchise has majored on family themes from the start. The same is once again true here. Mavis compassionately longs to help her dad get to a better place, emotionally speaking. And Dracula tells someone, “I haven’t been on a date since my wife died. It is hard being a single dad, but I did my best.”
Family—including marriage and having children—is presented in a positive, aspirational light. Mavis and Johnny love each other and enjoy raising their son, Dennis. Meanwhile, Drac feels the natural void of his daughter growing up, and he longs for a second shot at love himself, ultimately prompting his pursuit of Erika.
Erika, for her part, has to overcome some lurking prejudice against vampires and monsters when Drac starts pursuing her (to say the least). Meanwhile, Mavis isn’t quite sure that Erika is exactly who she seems to be, and she’s quite protective of her dad as she tries to puzzle out what’s going on.
Various subplots in the film also reinforce the goodness of marriage and family. We see a wedding. Two werewolves, Wayne and Wanda, emotionally reconnect when they discover that they can drop their enormous brood of children off at a play area on the ship.
Marriage and parenthood are shown to be challenging at times; but those small challenges are but a trifle compared to the joy of raising a family with someone you love. The film also suggests that even two people who are very different from each other can still find love. And, of course, we’ve got some heroism in mix when things get a bit desperate near the end.
Dracula and Mavis are technically undead beings, of course. A flashback lets us know that Dracula’s been around for centuries. But little, if anything, is made of his undead status from a spiritual perspective. Drac and other characters also exhibit various magical abilities (such as turning into a bat, hypnotizing others, flying on broomsticks, etc.).
The digital assistant on Dracula’s smartphone asks him, “What can I help you with Lord of Darkness?”
Johnny, Mavis’ husband, is a DJ. He describes the area around his computer and sound equipment as his “sacred space.” We see a painting of a monster with a finger touching that of a man, an image that seems to mimic Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting, “The Creation of Adam.”
The cruise that the monsters are on has a vaguely spiritual destination: “The lost city of Atlantis.” Love is said to weave together “strands of destiny.”
Frank tries to set up Drac with someone he knows who has “stitches in all the right places.” With regard to finding love in the modern age, Frank tells Drac, “Times have changed: You can even zing on your phone.”
Dracula makes a profile on the monster dating site “ZINGR,” and he sees a witch’s profile that includes a photo of her baring just a bit of cleavage. Witches on the cruise wear mildly revealing swimsuits as well. Several of them are quite smitten with Dracula’s ancient father, Vlad, who wears a tiny Speedo-like swimsuit. (Others are shown in swimwear, too.) They leer at his backside, and one of them quips, “Yummy!” Elsewhere, we hear the double entendre, “Would you like to see my buns?”
Dracula isn’t looking for romance on the ship, even if his friends are on the lookout for potential partners for the vampire. “Maybe you’ll find your own fireworks on the cruise,” Frank suggests. Drac replies, “It’s not the Love Boat, Frank. I’m just here to have a good time with my family.” Despite saying that, though, Dracula soon finds himself quite smitten with Erika, and a relationship between them haltingly develops.
Winnie, a young werewolf girl, clearly has an innocent crush on Dennis, and kisses him on the cheek. Her parents, meanwhile, make plenty of googly eyes at each other. Wayne tells Wanda, “Let’s get wild!” Translated: They take turns playing fetch with each other.
The challenge of sustaining a marital connection after children is also emphasized when Mavis asks her husband if he’s ready for their date night, only to find that he’s fallen asleep with Dennis. Johnny confesses, “When my parents kiss, I still close my eyes.”
Characters do the “Macarena” dance, which could be seen as mildly sensual.
The first scene of the film is a flashback to 1897, when famed monster hunter Abraham Van Helsing is hunting Dracula and his monster comrades. A montage of violent moments brings to mind Wile E. Coyote’s pursuit of the Road Runner, with Van Helsing repeatedly getting slammed, dropped and thwarted, cartoon-style, in his efforts to vanquish the monsters. (And he does want to vanquish them, saying repeatedly that his mission is to “kill Dracula” and his monstrous ilk.) Later in the film, an enormous undersea creature seems to put all the monsters in very real peril and does some damage to Atlantis in the process.
But most of the “violence” here isn’t perilous at all, but rather comedically ridiculous. Slapstick shenanigans and pratfalls permeate the story and will no doubt provoke plenty of giggles from young viewers. One of the biggest will likely come courtesy of a character that purposefully dumps coffee on Murray the Mummy’s crotch.
Someone has a close encounter with a propeller. A living volleyball gets smashed into Drac’s face. Drac also ends up with arrows, spikes and an ax embedded in him in a scene that pays homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark. A plane crash is played for humor. And so on.
Someone says “off the shizak,” perhaps recalling the s-word. There’s one unfinished use of “what the—.” We hear “oh my gosh” twice. Someone exclaims, “You fool!”
A character throws what appears to be a glass of champagne in Dracula’s face. Characters drink cocktails with little umbrellas in them. A chupacabra orders a drink with a goat sitting in the cup (a humorous-if-dark wink at the Mexican legend of that mythological monster drinking goat blood). A couple of characters get tranquilized.
Multiple characters belch and pass gass. Murray slaps someone’s backside. Two characters get locked away against their will. We hear Bruno Mars’ materialism-focused hit “24K Magic.”
Atlantis is depicted as being very Las Vegas-like. We see characters gambling at various games of chance.
[Spoiler Warning] Erika is in fact Abraham Van Helsing’s great-grandaughter. The entire cruise has been a ruse to lure the monsters into one location where she and her great-grandfather (who’s still alive courtesy of painful-looking cybernetic technology) can wipe them all out in one fell swoop. She keeps the deception under wraps for much of the movie, though Mavis begins to suspect that Erika may not be what she seems.
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation isn’t a perfect family film. But it’s still a pretty sweet one on many levels.
Sure, we’ve got vampires passing gas after eating garlic. We’ve got monsters enthusiastically rolling the dice in a casino. We’ve got slapstick violence galore and a flirtation or two with profanity.
Still, those minor concerns ultimately don’t spoil this sequel’s main message: Marriage and children are very good things, worth nurturing and embracing fully. These days, such cinematic celebration of the joy and beauty of family is hardly a given.
Thankfully, Dracula and his animated Hotel Transylvania crew—of all characters!—remind us once more what’s really important in life: taking care of (and at times taking risks for) the family and friends whose relationships we cherish deeply.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.