I’m thinking Hotel Transylvania: Transformania – exclusive to Amazon Prime – could’ve probably been called simply Hotel Transformania, but we wouldn’t want anyone to get the branding confused with, I dunno, Transformers? The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? Hotel Rwanda? Anyway, it also should’ve been called TransFOURmania, since it’s the fourth movie in the moderately successful animated movie/video game/TV franchise, and reportedly the final film. Sight unseen, it’s already the least of the features, considering Adam Sandler was replaced by Brian Hull as the voice of Drac, and Genndy Tartakovsky, director of the first three, is out, getting only producer and writing credits here (and is hopefully off making a second season of Primal, or rebooting Dexter’s Laboratory). The movie kept getting bumped down the theatrical release schedule until Sony sold the movie to Amazon, prompting relief in parents who otherwise would’ve felt pressured to spend $83 on tickets and popcorn to take the fam to the cineplex to see a mediocre cartoon. Instead the movie can be half-watched in the background at home, which just might be the fate it deserves.
The Gist: We open on Drac (Hull) smack in the middle of a big shindig. It’s the 125th anniversary of Hotel Transylvania, and that’s a mighty long time, but some things never change: He’s still crappin’ annoyed by Johnny (Andy Samberg), the irritating, chirpy, color-soaked husband of Drac’s beloved monochrome daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez). Drac is moments away from taking the stage, announcing his retirement and handing the hotel keys to Mavis and Johnny. But Johnny being Johnny, he puts Drac’s colon in a last-second knot, and the vampire changes his mind. Johnny really wants the hotel. Johnny shouldn’t have the hotel. Johnny would ruin the hotel, because Johnny sucks. The hotel is a cool, safe space for monsters to hang out and not be deemed subhuman, and Johnny is the opposite of cool. He’s a obnoxio-dorknoramus of the highest degree.
Ever the uptight fool, Drac fibs hard, telling Johnny that there’s an obscure real estate law stating that Hotel Transylvania can’t be owned by a human. Johnny finds a loophole in that logic: He’ll have Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) zap him with a doohickey that’ll turn him into a monster. They test it on a gerbil, and it becomes a fuzzy purple behemoth. So zap! Johnny grows scales and a tail and talons and fangs. Drac flips out and, what with one wacky slapstick occurrence or another, gets zapped by the thingy and becomes a normal mortal human, one so terrifying, he could pass for a Republican in a heartbeat.
This does not go over well. Drac wants to change himself back, but the doohickey breaks, and the only way to fix it is to trek to the heart of a South American jungle to find a special gem. So Bland Drac and Monster Johnny hop a plane and initiate father-in-law/son-in-law bonding, the likes of which could see either soon dead by passive aggression or unlikely pals, but hey, no spoilers here. It also gives Drac an opportunity to experience the joys of sunlight, piranhas and mosquitos. Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s monster Frank (Brad Abrell), werewolf Wayne (Steve Buscemi), invisible guy Griffin (David Spade), mummy Murray (Keegan-Michael Key) and Blobby also are demonsterized, and hop a plane to the Amazon with Mavis and Drac’s human S.O. Ericka (Kathryn Hahn) leading the way. If there’s a point to any of this, please, someone let me know.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Paranorman and Coraline (ESPECIALLY Coraline!) all seed high in the animated Halloweeny-movie brackets, while the Hotel Transylvanias and recent Addams Family movies compete in the NIT equivalent.
Performance Worth Watching: Jeez, this material is bland. Only Samberg does anything memorable as the movie’s most aggravating character.
Memorable Dialogue: “It’s like Freaky Friday, but on a Tuesday!” – Johnny exercises his wit with a two-pound dumbbell
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Transformania doesn’t blow its opportunity to deliver the same, predictable comedy we expect from this series, much of it pegging relatively high on the obnoxiometer, delivered at a dizzying pace and inspiring the occasional snicker. The Hotel Transylvanias are very much a kids-only endeavor, a hyperactive gag onslaught with light homilies tossed in at the end like a vitamin or mineral into a bowl of High Fructose Corn Syrup Flakes (NOW With Disconcertingly Spongy Dehydrated Marshmallow Wads!).
This time around, we get a “you’re perfect just the way you are” message of acceptance and the humanization of Drac, who proves he’s capable of not just physical change, but emotional change, thus marking the character’s progress from judgmental, shallow jackbutt to warm, accepting guy. His father-in-lawdom has moved through tolerance to love, something we’ve no doubt been really torn up over, holding us in suspense since the first movie assaulted our senses a decade ago. If you can bring yourself to cut through the incredibly manic silliness of these movies to care about any of this, godspeed my friend, godspeed.
Our Call: The entertainment value of Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is exactly equivalent to its status as a side perk to getting free two-day shipping on whatever random crap you bought while drunkscrolling on your phone. STREAM IT so your kid won’t bother you while the hangover wears off.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.