It'll be the parents asking "Are we there yet?" at this year's middle-shelf animated sequel, "Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation." Kids, as we know, are happy to be anywhere (with popcorn and soda), and there's no point in begrudging fans of this popular franchise another ride. There's every possibility they'll love it. Their discerning parents, on the other hand, are liable to struggle through this amiable but objectively mediocre product launch.
"You only zing once." That's the conventional wisdom understood by Dracula (Adam Sandler) and his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) when it comes to "love at first sight for monsters." Drac hasn't had a date in 100 years and frankly doesn't see the point. When Mavis senses her father is down in the dumps, she signs up her dopey-wise human husband (Andy Samberg) and their whole monster clan (including Kevin James' Frankenstein, Steve Buscemi's werewolf, David Spade's invisible man, Mel Brooks' grandpa Vlad, et al) for "the monster cruise of a lifetime." Point of departure? The Bermuda Triangle. Destination? The lost city of Atlantis.
So far, so good, especially when the first leg of the vacation requires a trip on a monstrously (and amusingly) ramshackle airline. As soon as the plot kicks in on the bad ship Legacy, the writers struggle to keep interest afloat. The ship's captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), catches Dracula's eye and suddenly we're in the monster version of a Sandler-Drew Barrymore rom-com, the complication being that Ericka's "legacy" belongs to the adversarial Van Helsing family (Jim Gaffigan voices her marching orders from great-grandfather Professor Abraham Van Helsing). As Dracula's catch phrase goes, "Blah blah blah."
It would be uncharitable to call "Hotel Transylvania 3" a bad movie, especially with its pro-tolerance message (albeit a recycled one) -- never more needed than now -- and its grasp for kid empathy when it comes to a single parent's yearning for a love life (there's also generational talk of honoring the past while embracing the future). Still, as return director, highly regarded animator Genndy Tartakovsky achieves an impression here of manic but dull. This is the kind of lackluster animated movie at which you'll lose count of how many times the characters randomly break into dance -- and that's in addition to the times they sensibly dance, at the not one but two dance parties incorporated into the plot. Actual line of dialogue: "Anyways, let's get back to dancing."
It's hard to imagine the talent involved being truly invested in this material, a third go-around that feels fiscally obligatory rather than creatively imperative. Tartakovsky and his team literally go big with giant-sized menaces (while the most amusing subplot finds the kids smuggling huge pet Tinkles on board), but like the undead, "Hotel Transylvania" is active without being truly lively, awkwardly "honoring the past" of bygone monster sitcoms like "The Munsters" and "The Addams Family" not so much by musty gag humor and character-actor juice as by "embracing the future" of pumped-up pop music.