CAST: Brian Hull, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Asher Blinkoff, Brad Abrell, Fran Drescher, Jim Gaffigan, Molly Shannon
RUNNING TIME: 88 mins
BASICALLY…: Dracula (Hull) and his monster friends find themselves transformed by a mysterious spell…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
The absence of Adam Sandler from any sequel would normally be a blessing in disguise, if it weren’t for the fact that the Hotel Transylvania movies are actually among the very few comedy movies he’s starred in that are actually – dare I say it – funny. Sandler’s voice acting as Count Dracula has shown a much more pleasant and sweeter side to the divisive comic actor, way more than a lot of his other DOA atrocities under his Happy Madison label, so believe me when I say that his absence from Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, the fourth and supposedly final film in the series, is sorely felt.
It isn’t that replacement voice actor Brian Hull is terrible at his job – he does a decent enough job of replicating Sandler’s campy Dracula voice, even though at times it sounds more like a straight-up impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger – but the second that Dracula opens his mouth in this film, it’s clear as night that something is deeply missing this time round. It’s extra clear given the fact that the series’ stylish director Genndy Tartakovsky is also sitting this one out, with directing duties here going to duo Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska, so a lot of the energetic animation that the Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack legend once brought to the franchise is muted at best here, which unfortunately leaves this fourth film to conclude things on a slowly deflating note.
The film starts as Dracula (Hull) is celebrating the 125th anniversary of his monster sanctuary Hotel Transylvania, where he is preparing to announce his retirement and hand the reins over to his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), but fears of what her human husband Johnny (Andy Samberg) will do to his hotel prompts Dracula to deny him ownership, on account of the fact that he is not a monster. In response, Johnny pays a visit to Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) who zaps him with a crystal that has the power to transform humans into monsters, and vice versa; however, the spell gets out of hand when Dracula and his monster friends – including Frank (Brad Abrell, replacing Kevin James), Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Murray the mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), and Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade) – are all turned into humans, which sparks a journey to locate a new crystal and turn them all back to normal, before the change becomes permanent.
Unlike the other Hotel Transylvania movies, Transformania has the unapologetic feel of a direct-to-DVD story (which, given its shift to a streaming release on Amazon Prime Video from a planned theatrical run, only exacerbates the feeling). You can sense the decline in quality through how the animation is presented here; noticeably missing in action is the popping and wildly hyperactive speed that Tartakovsky once brought to these characters’ movements, hints of which remain but not nearly quite as much as there had been previously, which new directors Drymon and Kluska sadly aren’t able to fully replicate. There also seems to be a missed opportunity with turning these monster figures into regular humans, for while there are some amusing designs (Wayne the once-hairy werewolf is bestowed an enormous bushy beard upon his transformation) not much is done to their movement speeds to really highlight the sudden difference; for example, instead of Dracula being much slower and less smooth as a human than he was as a vampire, he’s more or less the same as before, since he moves just as cartoonishly flexible post-transformation without the need for any adjustment. It seems that the creative limits behind this particular story don’t stretch as far as previous entries, which is sad to say about a series that has exhibited plenty of creativity in the past.
That being said, there are parts of Hotel Transylvania: Transformania that do make it worthwhile as the final entry, if not a completely satisfactory one. A surprise key component of this series has been its rather pleasant sense of heart, which this film does contain as well, albeit in smaller doses than we’ve seen before. Change of voice actor aside, Dracula is a likeable character in these movies, and his relationship with both his daughter Mavis and his human son-in-law Johnny has been a sweet source of charm and comedy throughout, which the filmmakers do keep in mind here as they explore the dynamic as much as they possibly can within their own creative limits, resulting in some nice scenes where you do feel these characters’ goofy admiration for each other, even though it isn’t always conjured under the most truthful of contexts. A major conclusion may rightfully cause some eyes to roll, because it does a much-mocked trope without much sense of irony, but at least there is some semblance of heart still remaining in this animated sequel, which is more than I can say about something like The Addams Family 2 which wishes it was as genuine (to a point) as this film.
However, it still isn’t enough to prevent me from calling this the weakest of the series because, ultimately, it just isn’t as funny as the others. Other than the occasional chuckle-raising sight gag, there’s not nearly as much laughter brought upon by the writing or the levels of animation that Tartakovsky really is a genius about bringing; even the third movie had more laughs than this, partly because not just Tartakovsky but also Adam Sandler were both involved and bringing their A-game to material that by all accounts shouldn’t be so fun to watch. It’s really just one for Hotel Transylvania completionists, since you’ve seen the others and so you might as well watch this one too; other than that, as well as some of the colours that are sure to keep young kids occupied, Transformania ends the series with neither a bang nor a whimper, but a soft and barely audible whoopee cushion placed between a pair of even softer and far less audible pillows.
Again, it feels so weird to be lamenting the absence of Adam Sandler from anything – what on Earth is this world coming to?!
SO, TO SUM UP…
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is a mediocre conclusion to a fun and creative animated film series, with a direct-to-DVD quality in both its writing and animation, not to mention the sorely-felt absences of both lead actor Adam Sandler and director Genndy Tartakovsky, which despite occasional displays of the heart that has powered this franchise isn’t enough to excuse a lack of laughs which are needed for this underwhelming series ending.