The animated Hotel Transylvania franchise takes classic movie monsters and makes them kid-friendly, and while Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is the best-reviewed of the bunch so far, it still falls a bit short of its peers in the genre. With that in mind, Christy Lemire offers a breakdown of what to expect if you take the kids to see it, and then suggests three other animated movies about monsters that will probably make for a far more pleasant viewing experience for everyone.
Rating: PG, for some action and rude humor.
Monsters and humans: They’re not so different after all! It’s the same fundamental point of the previous two Hotel Transylvania movies, only now they’re making it on a cruise ship. Still, an animated film that teaches kids to embrace others’ differences is always welcome, and especially now. And truthfully, these are some of the best movies we’ve ever seen starring Adam Sandler. Once again, the comedian lends his voice to the lead character of Dracula, who’s burned out from running his hotel for monsters. His daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), surprises him by taking him and all of his family and friends on a cruise getaway. Dracula isn’t thrilled about this idea until he sees the lovely and intriguing Captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). But she may have sinister plans in mind for Dracula and his pals as the great-granddaughter of the legendary vampire hunter Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), who’s now half man, half machine. As always, the humor is light and the antics are zippy. The characters are all monsters but they’re cute and colorful. (The green, gelatinous Blobby remains my personal favorite.) There’s a crooning sea creature (voiced by Joe Jonas) who may seem scary for very tiny kids, but his character eventually turns goofy like everyone else. Overall, I’d say this is a fine summer escape for kids ages 6 and older.
If the latest Hotel Transylvania movie has your kids psyched up to see more animated monsters, here are a few suggestions you can share with them:
One of the earliest Pixar films and still one of my favorites, it’ll inspire ugly crying during its more poignant developments. (The 2013 prequel Monsters University is a lot of fun, too, but not quite as emotionally deep.) Like the Hotel Transylvania series, Monsters Inc. suggests that seemingly scary creatures are just like us: They drive cars, they go on dinner dates, they go to work. But their job is scaring kids to capture their screams, which provide energy for Monstropolis, a vividly detailed city that looks more than a little like New York. The twist is, the monsters are deathly afraid of the children they scare. Billy Crystal and John Goodman bounce off each other beautifully as Mike and Sully, best friends whose lives get upended when they run into a little girl who isn’t frightened of them. It’s wacky and weird, colorful and crazy, and an excellent choice for the whole family.
Rating: PG, for some scary images and action, and brief mild language.
Tim Burton has explored the creative storytelling possibilities of stop-motion animation in a few films, including The Nightmare Before Christmas (as a writer and producer) and the excellent Frankenweenie. But the melancholy sweetness of Corpse Bride gets me every time. It’s also just flat-out gorgeous to look at, with its vividly detailed characters and delightfully macabre settings. Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter lead an all-star cast in this romantic tale of a shy young man who’s torn between the woman his parents have arranged for him to marry and the woman he accidentally marries when she rises from the Land of the Dead. It might seem a little scary for very young kids, but it’s mostly magical. Death and decay abound, but in a playful and often musical way. Great for viewers around 8 and older.
Rating: PG, for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril.
This dazzlingly beautiful and deeply moving film was one of my favorites of 2016. It’s a traditional hero’s journey with inspired visuals and a starry voice cast. Another twisted offering from the Laika animation house (Coraline, The Boxtrolls), Kubo follows the adventures of a young boy (voiced by Art Parkinson) with the magical ability to bring his vibrant origami creatures to life through music. But he also must deal with heavy issues at home, including serving as the parent to his depressed mother, a witch warrior. With the help of a monkey named Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beetle named Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), he goes on a quest to find three crucial pieces of armor that belonged to his late father, a valiant samurai. Like Corpse Bride, Kubo was created through painstaking stop-motion animation. But it also explores some ideas that may be disturbing for some young viewers. Kubo is in constant peril and under attack by an array of monsters from his earliest days. Among the challenges he must face are a sea of giant eyeballs and a set of creepy twins. There’s also a great deal of wonder here, though, as well as worthwhile themes of bravery and perseverance. Fine for viewers around 8 or 9 and older.