Review: ‘Hotel Transylvania: Transformania’ (Drac’s lamest hits)

A 98-minute reminder of the first three better films.

On the hotel’s 125th anniversary, Dracula (Bill Hull) plans to retire with Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), leaving his monster sanctuary to his vampire daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and human son-in-law Johnny (Andy Samberg)… which Mavis overhears ahead of time. Still inexplicably worried about Johnny’s overenthusiastic behavior after three previous films, Drac lies to Johnny, telling him he can’t give him the hotel because he’s not a monster. Faster than you can say “Hey, Beastmaster’s on,” Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) obliges Johnny with a blast from his previously unmentioned and untested transformation ray to turn humans into monsters… aaaaand of course Drac gets turned into a potbellied human. Let the mandatory wackiness ensue!

Genndy Tartakovsky’s Hotel Transylvania franchise for Sony Animation is an idea that never fully lived up to its potential. After the first film established a human wandering into a secret monster sanctuary, part 2 rehashed much of the same script with the addition of a few new characters. The closest the franchise has gotten to anything more interesting was the third installment, Summer Vacation, introducing Van Helsing and showing Dracula at the top of his game; the DJ battle was overlong, but it all ended on a high note for everyone. A fourth film already seemed like a stretch, especially after losing Adam Sandler and Kevin James’ vocals plus Tartakovsky no longer directing — not to mention moving the release from October 2021 theatrically to Amazon Prime in January 2022. Seriously, how bad could it be?

Coasting on expected stylized animation with inventive added production design — the Van Helsings have some nice toys — the main story unfortunately reverts back to “Drac doesn’t trust Johnny” again. The rest of the film is all sight gags and provincial plotting, like filmmakers chose to lower the bar from PG to mostly G. Moments of entertainment are fleeting — like a made-for-television afterthought — with the only real change coming at the film’s end before essentially going nowhere. The once-fun spooky adventure has been purged, leaving a continuous series of so-so silliness, and the unfulfilled characters appear just as disappointed by it.

Mavis and Johnny are complex and interesting characters typical of Genndy Tartakovsky, like his “Star Wars: Clone Wars” and “Samurai Jack.” The Drac Pack — Frankenstein, Invisible Griffin, Murray the Mummy, and Wolfman Wayne — are typical boy’s club foils played for laughs and misunderstandings, but the series hits its stride when juggling both organic humor and high adventure, creating both moments of dread and sweetness. Drac’s widower backstory always felt dire, something that wasn’t entirely balanced in original film, but it gave the character weight in spite of the craziness: real world consequences that couldn’t be undone. Over the course of the trilogy, Drac’s over-protectiveness of Mavis flipped, with the daughter becoming more dangerous than her dad when he was threatened.

Meaningful character moments like these are absent from Transformania, carrying all the by-the-numbers tediousness of Disney’s Jungle Cruise. There’s already been a traditionally animated prequel series for Hotel Transylvania on Disney, but why couldn’t there be a Mavis/Johnny HT movie sans the Drac Pack? New characters, new threats, new twists, something PG with monsters featuring a loving couple and kid struggling to keep their new hotel running without calling in the Dracula-In-Law. Unless you’re the kind of completionist that has to see every sequel of a series they enjoyed, let this one burn in the house of the rising sun.

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania rated PG for some action and rude humor including cartoon nudity… and somewhere, Edna Mode is threatening someone with a rolled up magazine shouting, “My God — pull yourself together!”

One skull recommendation out of four

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