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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3D Animation Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Family Issues Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Series/Sequel

Hotel Transylvania 2

Posted on September 24, 2015 at 5:35 pm

Copyright Columbia 2015
Copyright Columbia 2015

Vampire Mavis (Selena Gomez) and human Jonathan (Andy Samberg) fell in love in the first “Hotel Translyvania,” and in this sequel they get married and have a baby named Dennis. He has his father’s unruly red curls. But his grandfather Drac (Adam Sandler) wants to make sure he has inherited his mother’s vampire genes as well. “He’s a late fanger,” Drac tries to reassure everyone, especially himself.

“Hotel Transylvania 2” suffers from sequel-itis — not as fresh or imaginative as the original and it feels like it was made because they wanted to do a sequel and not because they had anything special to say. But it is still entertaining.

Even before the movie starts, the Columbia logo statue turns into a vampire bat and we know we’re off to a place where cute monsters rule. The wedding scene is a lot of fun as it re-introduces us to the characters, all played by wonderful comic voice actors including David Spade (Griffin, the invisible man, who keeps insisting that he has an invisible girlfriend), Kevin James as Frankenstein and Fran Drescher as his wife, Eunice, Keegan-Michael Key as Murray the mummy, Steve Buscemi as Wayne the very fecund wolfman, and Molly Shannon as his wife, Wanda. We skip ahead quickly to the arrival of Dennis, and then ahead again as he approaches his 5th birthday, and Drac is still waiting to see if he will become a vampire. (Maybe when he grows up, he could marry similarly mixed-race Renesmee from “Twilight”).

This is even more pressing because if he is human, Mavis wants to move to California, near Jonathan’s parents, so he can be around other humans. Even though Dennis loves monsters, she thinks he will be happier around his own kind of people. So, she and Jonathan fly to California to see whether it is right for them, leaving Dennis with his grandfather.

Big mistake.

Drac promises to keep Dennis at the castle/hotel but instead takes him on a journey to try to get his vampire side to come out. And of course he brings his pals along. They visit a monster summer camp and try to scare some humans, but find that their scare power is significantly diminished. Humans ask for selfies and one of them even compliments Drac on his chocolate cereal. Dennis may be a late-fanger but these cuddly monsters are no-fangers, and when you’re looking for silly fun with a hug at the end, that’s just fine.

Parents should know that this film’s themes include monsters and scariness but it is mostly for humor. There is some comic peril and violence with no one hurt, some potty humor, themes of family/culture difference, conflicts. and prejudice.

Family discussion: What are the biggest cultural or ethnic differences in your family? Which is your favorite monster and why?

If you like this, try: the first “Hotel Transylvania” and “Megamind”

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3D Animation Family Issues Series/Sequel

Getaway

Posted on August 29, 2013 at 6:48 pm

getaway film starring Ethan hawkeThere’s dumb fun and then there’s just dumb.  “Gateway” is closer to that second category, and worse, so forgettable that better title would be “Throwaway.”  This one has 99 cent DVD bin all over it.

Ethan Hawke, believably seedy, plays a former race car driver awfully named Brent Magna.  He was known for being both reckless and fearful and “wrecking expensive cars.”  He and his wife now live in Bulgaria.  He comes home on Christmas Eve to find that his wife has been kidnapped.  If he wants to see her alive again, he must do exactly as he is told, starting with stealing a very fancy car and then driving it very fast.  On the other end of the phone is a mysterious man with an unidentifiable but clearly villainous accent and a disturbingly genial tone that darkens when he becomes insistent and threatening.

We see only his mouth and stubble-covered chin as he sips a cocktail.  Magna hears only his voice, directing him to undertake a series of seemingly random and very reckless tasks in the car, which has been equipped with every possible kind of monitoring device, including microphones, cameras, and a sort of high-end Lojack.  The man listed in the credits only as The Voice tells him to speed through a park crowded with Christmas celebrants and crash into the dias.  He tells Magna that if he tries to get help or is stopped by the police, he will kill Magna’s wife, who we see getting roughed up and tossed into a cell equipped with the obligatory stained mattress.

A teenage girl with a gun (Selena Gomez) tries to steal the car.  Voice orders Magna to kill her.  Magna cannot do it.  Voice changes his mind and tells Magna to keep her in the car.  Not that it made any sense before this point, but now is when it really goes off the rails.  The girl is supposed to be something between the Dragon Tattoo hacker (with the hacker skills and bad manners but without the tattoos, piercings, and omni-sexuality) and Mackenzie Phillips in “American Graffiti” (with the attitude but without the shaving cream and Paul LeMat).  Even if her crazy list of character traits made sense — did I mention she also happens to be the owner of the super-duper stolen vehicle? — Gomez would not be the actress to pull this off.  Whenever she is called upon to show rage or toughness, she looks like she’s ordering a soda at the malt shop.  Magna has principles about killing people.  Until he doesn’t.  And don’t get me started on the conveniently irrational and incompetent behavior of the police and the fact that everyone speaks English.  Each subsequent twist piles on another layer of preposterousness.  When Voice said there was only more more task, I was more relieved than Magna was.

“Getaway” wants to be “Die Hard” in a car.  But it stalls in first gear.

Parents should know that this film has constant peril and violence including chases, explosions, crashes, and guns, characters in peril and minor characters injured and killed, frequent s-words and other bad language, criminal activity including extortion, kidnapping, and theft, drinking and scenes in bar

Family discussion:  What evidence did you see of Magna’s recklessness and fear?  What did he and the girl have in common?

If you like this, try: “Nick of Time,” “Cellular,” and “Phone Booth”

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Action/Adventure Thriller

Hotel Transylvania

Posted on September 27, 2012 at 6:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude humor, action, and scary images
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Funny-scary monsters
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 28, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B0034G4OYA

What scared me most about “Hotel Transylvania” was the prospect of another film starring Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg.  Their last collaboration was “That’s My Boy,” by far the most excruciatingly painful experience I’ve had at a theater this year. Thankfully, just providing voices for this PG animated horror comedy written by five other people, Sandler and Samberg are charming.  It is a sweet, funny story about monsters who want to enjoy a peaceful life far from humans and the human who finds them anyway.

Sandler plays Count Dracula, a doting if over-protective vampire father who builds the hotel as a refuge so he and his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) can be safe from scary people with their pitchforks and torches.   Dracula croons a tender lullaby: “Hush little baby, don’t say a word, papa’s going to bite the head off a bird.”  Next to the changing table is a coffin-shaped diaper pail.

Mavis gets a little older, with cute little baby tooth fangs, and her caped father makes sure she’s wearing a helmet before he teaches her how to transform into a bat and fly.  The hotel is a castle surrounded by a haunted forest and a graveyard populated by the undead. “Human-free since 1898,” the hotel proudly proclaims.  And so things stay for over a century.

This Dracula has no need for human blood (“it’s so fatty and you don’t know where it’s been”).  He relies on synthetic.  All he wants is to take care of his guests, give his daughter a wonderful 118th birthday party, make sure she never leaves home, and never, ever see a human.   But then, just as all of the monsters have arrived for the party, an easy-going bro with an enormous back-pack walks in.  His name is Jonathan (Samberg), he thinks the monsters are cool, and he likes Mavis’ goth-girl vibe.  This is worse than torches and pitchforks.  A human who wants to get rid of monsters is one thing but a daughter who might fall in love with one is even scarier.  And yes, there a wink at “Twilight.”

Of the three animated horror 3D comedies this fall, “Hotel Transylvania” is the least aesthetically ambitious, the most accessible for younger children, and the closest to the comfortingly silly scares of “Scooby-Doo.”   Like this film, “ParaNorman” (now in theaters) and “Frankenweenie” (opening next week), the focus is on showing us that what we think is scary really is not very frightening after all.  Of the three, this one has more all-out comedy, much of it coming from the monster-fied setting and the ghoul-ification of ordinary life.  At Hotel Transylvania, the Do Not Disturb signs hanging from the doorknobs are shrunken heads — very outspoken ones.  Mavis likes to eat “scream” cheese, which amusingly rises up from the cracker to let out a squeal as she takes a bite.  Guests are greeted by zombie bellman, a Jack Pumpkinhead doorman, and a skeleton mariachi band with hats and sarapes.  When the Invisible Man (David Spade) attempts to play charades, it is a hoot.

First-time director Genndy Tartakovsky was a storyboard artist on films like “Iron Man 2,” so he has an exceptional understanding of the mechanics and timing of the action sequences, and 3D adds a vertiginous thrill to a chase on flying tables and a touch of claustrophobia to a maze of underground corridors.  It is telling that both of those highlights involve the most vivid vampire/human relationship at the heart of the story — Dracula and Jonathan. Despite a lot of talk about romantic “zing,” the bromance is much more real than the love story.  And when they leave the castle for that most overused of climax cliches, the race to the airport, the story sags.

Top voice talent includes Kevin James as a sweet-natured Frankenstein and Fran Drescher as his bride, Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon as the Wolf couple with innumerable cubs, and Ceelo Green as the outgoing Mummy.  But the real stars are character designers Carter Goodrich (“Despicable Me”), Greg Kellman (“Madagascar”), and Carlos Grangel (“King Fu Panda”), whose monsters pay affectionate homage to their origins but are so endearing that families may want to pay a visit to have room service deliver an order of scream cheese.

 

 

 

Parents should know that the monsters in this movie are intended to be more funny than scary but there are some grotesque and macabre images that may be frightening to young or sensitive children as well as some potty humor and peril.

Family discussion: Why was Dracula so afraid to let Mavis leave home?  How can parents know when their children are ready for more responsibility?  Which monster was your favorite?

If you like this, try: “ParaNorman,” “Monster House,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” and “Scooby-Doo”

 

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3D Animation Comedy Fantasy Movies -- format Romance

Monte Carlo

Posted on June 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for brief mild language
Profanity: Brief mild language ("hoochie," etc.)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Some comic peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 1, 2011

It’s the Princess and the Pauper with Disney star Selena Gomez and two Gossip Girls in a story about a Texas waitress who takes the place of a selfish heiress in the glamorous title city. There’s also a touch of Cinderella (though the fairy godmother is unwitting). And it is filled with flouncy pretty dresses and bouncy pop songs to delight tween Disney channel fangirls.

Gomez plays Grace, a high school senior in Texas. She and her best friend Emma (Katie Cassidy) have been saving the tips from their waitress jobs and finally have enough to go to Paris. At the last minute, her mother and her new step-father insist that her step-sister Meg (Leighton Meester) go along. Grace and Meg have a strained relationship that quickly gets much more strained once they arrive. The hotel is dingy and cramped and the tour is brusque and rushed.

The girls are enjoying the top of the Eiffel Tower when they miss the tour bus and get caught in a downpour. When they duck into a luxury hotel for shelter, Grace is mistaken for a spoiled British heiress named Cordelia Winthrop Scott (also Gomez, clearly having much more fun as the imperious young woman with an accent like a “mean Mary Poppins”). Cordelia is supposed to be on her way to Monte Carlo for a fund-raiser to repair her reputation as a party girl. The girls overhear her telling a friend she will leave the hotel without checking out and decide Grace should take her place for one night, rationalizing that the room is already paid for. But one thing leads to another and soon the girls are in Monte Carlo, selecting designer clothes from Cordelia’s luggage so they can go to the ball and meeting charming princes.  Well, one is a prince and two are charming.

There’s also a zillion-dollar diamond and sapphire necklace that is not always where it is supposed to be.  And it turns out that Cordelia is scheduled to play polo.

“I like the way they come down the stairs,” sighed the 9-year old girl sitting next to me.  It doesn’t take much more to enchant the target audience than seeing the girls in their party dresses coming down the steps in slow motion on the way to the ball.  But this movie, thankfully gives us a little bit more. The girls each have enough of a personality and story to keep it from getting too silly but not enough to keep it from being a fairy tale, at least the kind that will make dreams come true for some tweens who are too often neglected by the people who make movies.

 

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Comedy Movies -- format Romance
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