Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Posted on July 12, 2018 at 5:40 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic, cartoon-style peril and violence, weapons, fire, attempted murder
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 13, 2018
Date Released to DVD: October 8, 2018
Copyright 2018 Sony Pictures Animation

“You have to be carefully taught,” according to the Rodgers and Hammerstein song in “South Pacific.” Lt. Cable and Nelly Forbush sing ruefully about the prejudices drummed into them as children: “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late/Before you are six or seven or eight/To hate all the people your relatives hate/You’ve got to be carefully taught.” That same sober theme is gently raised in the midst of the silliness and fun scares of this third in the animated “Hotel Transylvania” series about Drac, the doting-to-a-fault vampire dad voiced by Adam Sandler, his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), and her very mellow human husband, Johnny (Andy Samberg).

In just about every other respect, it’s pretty much the same movie as the first two, with slightly less clever monster jokes than the first one and a slightly more appealing storyline than the second one. Basically, Adam Sandler gets to do his two favorite things: speak in a “funny” accent voice and be lazy, preferably in an exotic location (IRS, check to see if he deducted a cruise as a business expense in developing this one).

Drac is still over-involved in his daughter’s life, worrying way too much when you consider that it is very difficult to harm a vampire. In case we were not clear on that, it is spelled out for us in the movie’s opening flashback, set in 1897, where vampire killer Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) is trying to destroy Drac. But he is no match for a vampire with nimbleness, courage, and imperviousness to any threat but garlic or a stake through the heart. The original story’s third weapon against vampires, a crucifix, is omitted in favor of cartoon secularism, as is the ickiness of subsisting on blood, the inconvenience of sleeping in sunlight, or the problem of marriage between someone with a human life span and someone who never ages. Any concerns about those issues are for Twihards.

These are cute and cuddly monsters, including the Invisible Man (David Spade), Frankenstein and his bride (Kevin James and Fran Drescher), Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), and Mr. and Mrs. Wolfman (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), with their dozens of wolf-babies. There’s nothing at all scary about them and they seem to spend all of their time hanging out with each other, first at the resort that gives the series its title and then at Mavis’ surprise vacation — a cruise ship with all the amenities. As Drac points out, that means it’s just his hotel except on a boat. There’s one other big difference, though. He’s not in charge, which is both worrying and a little bit relaxing as well. “You need a vacation from managing everyone else’s vacation,” Mavis tells him. And this will be a chance for them to have some quality time together as a family.

Drac insists that the cruise, headed for the Bermuda Triangle and the lost continent of Atlantis “is not the Love Boat.” But he is beginning to think he might be interesting in finding romance (the vampire term is “zing” for love at first sight), many years since the death of Mavis’ mother. He even tries to find someone he’d like to swipe right on on the monster version of Tinder, called Zinger. And then, he takes a look at the beautiful — and human — ship’s captain, Erika (Kathryn Hahn), and ZING.

There’s some “monsters gotta be monsters” stuff — “We’re here, we’re hairy, and it’s our right to be scary!” Though of course they’re not scary after all and as in the other films it is the humans and their unwillingness to look beyond the tentacles and fur to see that just like us, monsters love their families and don’t want to hurt anyone. There’s a lot of silly stuff, a cute dance number, some appealing if uninspired pop song selections (Bruno Mars, the Beach Boys, the ubiquitous Mr. Blue Sky), plus the one song no one can resist dancing to (I won’t spoil it, but the audience groans suggested no one was surprised). It turns out music does have charms to sooth the savage beast after all. And this movie has enough charm to soothe little savages on summer vacation for 90 minutes or so.

Parents should know that this movie has some schoolyard language, potty humor, peril and violence (including attempted murder of monsters and a character who is badly injured and ultimately almost entirely prosthetic).

Family discussion: Why did Van Helsing hate monsters? Which monster would you like to be and why?

If you like this, try: the first two films, Monster House, “Igor

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Leap!

Posted on August 24, 2017 at 5:25 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some impolite humor, and action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild peril and comic violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 25, 2017
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2017

Copyright 2017 The Weinstein Company
“Leap!” would be amiable if a bit dull, a mediocre-grade filler if not for a crucial misjudgment about the main character’s choices and consequences and a storyline that depends on two key characters having completely unfounded total changes of personality.

The premise is a generic “kid with a dream” story about a boy and girl who run away from an orphanage to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer and his dream of becoming an inventor (and his other dream of becoming her boyfriend) in Paris of the late 19th century, as both the Eiffel Tower is being built. The spirited Felice (Elle Fanning) and awkward Victor (Nat Wolff) are best friends who are the closest thing to family in the orphanage run by stern Mother Superior (Kate McKinnon), and grumpy Luteau (Mel Brooks), a cross between a janitor and a truant officer.

With the help of mechanical wings invented by Victor, they finally make it to Paris, where Victor becomes an apprentice to an engineer and Felice lies her way into the prestigious ballet school, using the acceptance letter of a snooty rich girl named Camille (real-life dancer and Sia muse Maddie Ziegler). She actually does not know anything about ballet, but a mysterious cleaning lady with a limp with the name of one of ballet’s most famous roles, Odette (singer Carly Rae Jepsen) agrees, Mr. Miyagi-style, to give her some lessons. Jump up to ring a bell tied to a tree branch and land in a puddle without making a splash. And yes, wax on and wax off — but with her feet.

We know where this is going. Strong voice talent and some imaginative visuals, especially in the dance scenes, cannot make up for tedious detours (a handsome and charming young male dancer who makes Victor jealous, a dragon lady meanie a la Cruella de Vil, a visit to the in-progress Statue of Liberty with a recitation of the Emma Lazarus poem that we have all just been reminded was not added until later), and, as noted, plot developments that depend on two characters having complete changes of personality for no reason. Most troubling is that Felice makes repeated serious mistakes, breaking promises and telling lies, with almost no consequences, giving a sourness to the storyline. It’s one thing to imagine that a young girl could learn several years of ballet training in a few days; it’s another to show her hurting the people around her, and then have her easily forgiven without any effort to make amends.

Parents should know that there is some reckless and irresponsible behavior with only minor consequences; they will want to discuss Felice’s choices and their impact on the people around her. There is also some potty humor.

Family discussion: Why did Felice break her promise to Odette? How did helping Felice change Odette’s ideas about herself?

If you like this, try: “An American Girl: Isabelle Dances into the Spotlight” and “A Ballerina’s Tale”

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List: Comedy Westerns

Posted on May 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Movies and westerns were made for each other.  Hollywood came along not long after the era of westward expansion and access to the stunning landscapes of Monument Valley and endless vistas of desert and sagebrush was nearby.  The earliest commercial films were cowboy stories and by the time Hollywood hit its stride in the 1930’s-50’s the western was the perfect metaphor for the American experience.  Most were action films and dramas, but there were a few comedies, like this week’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”  Some of the best include:

Cat Ballou  Jane Fonda stars as a young woman determined to get revenge for the murder of her father (John Marley, the horse head in the bed guy from “The Godfather”).

A Big Hand for the Little Lady  This neglected gem has an all-star cast and one of the greatest plot twists ever, in the story of a devoted wife and mother (Joanne Woodward) who takes over for her ailing husband (Henry Fonda) in a high-stakes poker game.

The Paleface and Son of Paleface star Bob Hope, Roy Rogers, and Jane Russell in a pair of western spoofs, with the Oscar-winning song “Buttons and Bows.”

 

Ruggles of Red Gap Charles Laughton plays a very proper gentleman’s gentleman who teachers the rough westerners a few things about their own heritage.  It was remade with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball as “Fancy Pants.”

Blazing Saddles Mel Brooks’ classic is one of the funniest films ever made, funnier every time you watch it.  My favorite part is Madeline Kahn as the dance hall girl.

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Tonight on TNT: The American Film Institute Tribute to Mel Brooks

Posted on June 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Be sure to tune in tonight at 9 (8 Central) for the American Film Institute Tribute to Mel Brooks, writer/director/actor and very, very, very funny guy. From his early days as a writer on the legendary Sid Cesar television variety show to “Get Smart,” the Oscar-winning “The Producers” (later a record-breaking Broadway musical and a movie again), “Young Frankenstein,” “Blazing Saddles,” the 20,000 year old man comedy duo with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks has kept us laughing.

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Mel Brooks on American Masters

Posted on May 5, 2013 at 8:00 am

mel brooks carl reinerAmerican Masters salutes Mel Brooks on May 20 (check your local PBS station listings for details).  I love this photo of Brooks with his 2000 Year Old Man collaborator (and fellow Sid Caesar “Your Show of Shows” writer) Carl Reiner.  Brooks is an Oscar and Tony winner (for “The Producers”), one of the creators of the classic “Get Smart” spy spoof television series, and the mad genius behind “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” and “Spaceballs.”  He also produced the serious drama “The Elephant Man” and the bittersweet gem “84 Charing Cross Road,” both starring his wife, Oscar-winner Anne Bancroft.

Some great Mel Brooks quotes:

Why should I indulge myself and do a David Lean-ish kind of film? I could do my little Jewish Brief Encounter and disguise it – shorten the noses. But it wouldn’t be as much fun as delivering my dish of insanity.”

My movies rise below vulgarity.

Oh, I’m not a true genius. I’m a near genius. I would say I’m a short genius. I’d rather be tall and normal than a short genius.

Look at Jewish history. Unrelieved lamenting would be intolerable. So, for every ten Jews beating their breasts, God designated one to be crazy and amuse the breast-beaters. By the time I was five I knew I was that one.

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