Although some of the advertising promises for “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” to be the final “Hotel Transylvania” film, such an inducement did not, apparently, convince Adam Sandler to return as the voice of Dracula. Yes, after three entries in the series, Adam Sandler is gone for this fourth one, but you probably won’t notice much of a difference in the new voice, now performed by Brian Hull. Genndy Tartakovsky, who directed the first three does not return in that role either here, with Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska taking the reins. However, as with the third movie, Tartakovsky did work on the script for “Transformania” (Amos Vernon & Nunzio Randazzo are also credited). You probably won’t notice much of a difference in tone or feel between the first three movies and this one.
All of that is to say, if you watched and enjoyed those first three movies, you’re going to enjoy this one. If you found any (or all) of them grating, “Transformania” isn’t going to change your opinion there either.
The plot here follows a tried-and-true (or false) formula – Dracula becomes incensed at what he thinks his son-in-law, Johnny (Andy Samberg), might do and trouble occurs. In this case, Dracula is worried about how Johnny will run the hotel when Dracula retires from the business. Consequently, Dracula makes up a ridiculous lie about not being able to leave the hotel to Johnny and Dracula’s daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), because Johnny is human. Naturally, Johnny turns himself into a monster with the help of a gun Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) has in storage. Things go from bad to worse as Dracula goes off half-cocked trying to switch Johnny back, the gun breaks, and a quest is on to find a new crystal for the device.
As a whole, “Transformania” winds up feeling like a very shticky sitcom covering ground that the series has already trod — Johnny and Dracula find a new, deeper, understanding of one another on their trip and the latter promises to do better/try harder/yada yada. It isn’t that no moment will make you laugh, it’s just that you’ve seen it all done before… and better.
For all the ho-hum nature of the proceedings, it feels as though there is something inherently true in the way the whole thing plays out (if you give them the presence of the monsters). Sure, one could argue that all Dracula had to do was take a deep breath at any point before the ray gun broke and things would’ve been fine, but 1) that’s not true to the character and 2) who among hasn’t acted outside of our own self-interest in a fit of pique at least once. Johnny’s willingness to do anything to be accepted in the world of his spouse’s family also feels like something quite real.
Perhaps (and I haven’t gone back to watch the first three movies so this is speculation, but speculation based on what happens in this entry) this is where the strength of the franchise really lies – taking real world situations and heightening them, via monsters, into something comedic. Despite Frankenstein (now voiced by Brad Abrell instead of Kevin James), and the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), and the Invisible Man (David Spade), and the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key) being present, the problems they face are understandable. We, perhaps, have the ability to recognize our own actions more, to see ourselves more, due to the fact that visually we are far removed from what we see on screen (other genres of film/media frequently use such techniques).
On the other hand, all the monsters and their various spouses (Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon, and Kathryn Hahn are all present once more) are given little to do in this movie. The supporting characters may have a story in their own transformations or the transformations of their loved ones, but there is no exploration of the new things which they have to face, merely of a momentary joke or two. The characters all exist to serve the Dracula-Johnny-Mavis triangle and could, largely, be expunged without the film losing anything.
This, again, is the true weakness of the endeavor – it just feels so blah. The sense “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” offers is that it exists because someone decided that they needed to do another movie and so an idea was put together, not because there was a real story that anyone was excited about telling.
In the end what we have is another film in the franchise exploring, to a greater or lesser degree, the same things that the others have already looked at and which does not add to the conversation (these thing enhance its classic sitcom feel). Assuredly that will be enough for some members of the audience, but it will cause others to sigh and walk out of the room as the undemanding in the house watch it for the umpteenth time on Amazon Prime.
photo credit: Columbia Pictures