Hotel Transylvania: Transformania
2021, PG, 94 min. Directed by Derek Drymon, Jennifer Kluska. Voices by Brian Hull, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kathryn Hahn, Brad Abrell, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Jim Gaffigan.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Jan. 14, 2022
A story is supposed to answer a question, and hopefully it’s one that intrigues the audience. What is Rosebud? Who is Keyser Söze? In the case of Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, it’s, “What would the monsters from the Hotel Transylvania films look like if they were regular people?”
If that’s the sort of enigma that keeps you up at night, or if you just like a lot of kid-friendly animated slapstick, then the fourth in the animated series about every monster’s favorite home away from home might give you a few light guffaws. Oddly, Adam Sandler is out as Drac (and his old friend Kevin James stays home as Frankenstein’s monster) in this first of the films to bypass cinemas and head straight to streaming. He’s replaced by Disney YouTuber and cartoon voice imitator Brian Hull: Weirdly, the stand-in does a better Sandler than the returning Andy Samberg manages to do a Samberg as Drac’s annoying and very human son-in-law, Johnny. Through the accidental use of a magical MacGuffin provided by Van Helsing (Gaffigan), the pair finds themselves metamorphosized: Drac becomes human, a paunchy, fangless, middle-aged hotelier with a combover, while Johnny starts his own transformation into a dragon (albeit one in cargo shorts). Of course Drac doesn’t like this daywalker life, and so sets off into the jungle with Johnny in search of a replacement crystal for the MacGuffin before they end up stuck this way.
After Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation seemingly wrapped up the franchise by giving widower Drac a second chance at happiness with Ericka van Helsing (Hahn, still lumbered with one of the ugliest character designs in animation history), it was arguably time to seal the coffin forever. So for this unnecessary chapter, at least the writing team had the good sense to go to what gave the original a little spark of life: the love-hate relationship between Drac and Johnny (Drac does the hate, and oblivious Johnny has nothing but admiration for his grumpy in-law). It’s all very familiar, with Drac yet again learning to appreciate the idiot that his daughter, Mavis (Gomez), decided to marry.
The franchise has never been particularly thrilling or pretty, but this time around the script feels more like the end result of a lot of punch-up sessions, while the animation has that kind of flat, plasticky feel and uninspired cinematography that just leaves the whole affair threadbare, if still comfortably familiar. The earlier films are raided liberally for callbacks and Easter eggs, including the return of Gremlin Airlines in a sequence that just feels like leftover gags from the cabin crew’s last appearance. The best parts remain the old joke of Drac’s diminished dignity getting further pummeled by pratfalls, just as they were the best parts of the first three movies. Undemanding younger viewers will probably be fine with it, but then they’d probably be fine to check into any installment. It’s a fittingly mediocre end to a franchise that has always been OK with being average.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania flaps its way onto Amazon Prime Jan. 14.