(CNN) — After an appealing debut five years ago, “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” suggests the animated monster franchise is at the risk of overstaying its welcome. Although still visually pleasing, the latest adventure seldom sparks to life, even by the standards of its undead protagonists.
The first movie, notably, reveled in satire of the old Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, etc.) and a clear love of the genre, while weaving in a relatable hook, as overprotective dad Drac (voiced by Adam Sandler) dealt with the age-old fear of his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) leaving the nest (or in this case, cave).
Here, the situation is actually reversed, as Mavis books a special monster-themed cruise for the whole extended clan, after Drac mutters “I’m lonely” watching everyone else paired up. But she’s both concerned, and suspicious, when her dad appears to instantly fall for the ship’s captain, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), which for the kids in attendance, will tap into the issues many of them face about parents dating or remarrying.
There’s also a larger threat to monsterkind, although frankly, the details of that are given away so early in the plot as to make it all feel rather ho-hum.
What emerges, then, from director Genndy Tartakovsky’s third voyage behind the helm of these movies is a collection of intermittently clever visual gags, adapting cruise-ship and beach conventions into the monster realm, where lounging vacationers seek a “moon tan” and sail away to the lost city of Atlantis.
It’s all fairly benign, but the one really amusing moment will likely play far better with adults than the kids, as the werewolves (Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon), beaten into exhaustion by their overflowing pack of wild cubs, discover the pleasures of dropping them off at a vacation kids’ club for a few hours.
Given that the first two movies were, well, monster hits, it’s hardly a surprise that Sony (the studio behind them) would be eager to unleash another, or that the material — targeted to an age group accustomed to watching things they like over and over, and which seemed to laugh loudest at a flatulence joke — would have a repetitive quality to it.
Creatively, though, unlike the best animated franchises, whatever sense of discovery, surprise or ingenuity that “Hotel Transylvania” originally offered appears pretty well behind it. That might not mean it’s checkout time just yet, but all that seems left is to dig up the pieces, stitch them together, and flip the “on” switch.
“Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” opens July 13 in the U.S. It’s rated PG.