Hotel Transylvania: Transformania (2022) Review
A SERVICEABLE (YET UNCESSARY)
MONSTER CODA TO THE FRANCHISE
In 2012, animated director / writer Genndy Tartakovsky (along with a story by Todd Durham) released the cartoon movie Hotel Transylvania. The film, which starred the voice talents of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, and many others, told the story of Count Dracula’s daughter Mavis and how she finds an unexpected love interest when a human finds his way to her father’s hotel for legendary monsters of legend, causing unrest with Dracula himself. While the film faced mixed reviews from critics, moviegoers (especially the demographic target) found an interest in the animated monster tale, cultivating in a box office number of roughly $358 million against its production budget of $85 million. Given the modest success it found, its sequel Hotel Transylvania 2 was released in 2015, which continued the misadventures of those motley monster gang (and Dracula’s growing family) and saw the return of many (if not all) voice talents returning to their posts. Much like the first film, Hotel Transylvania 2 was met with mixed thoughts and criticisms, but was still able to achieve a box office sum of $473 million (roughly) against its $80 million budget. Several years later, a second sequel was greenlit and 2018 saw the return of Drac and his monster friends in Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation. Like before, all the acting talents returned to reprise their roles in the new movie, which saw Dracula and his friends taking a monster cruise vacation, with the vampire finding a new love interest in the form of Ericka Van Helsing, the great grandfather of the legendary monster hunter Van Helsing. Like the first follow-up sequel, Summer Vacation faced mixed reviews, but was able to rake in over $580 million at the box office against its $80 million production budget. Now, four years after the release of Summer Vacation, it’s time to head back to the hotel for monsters as Sony Pictures Animation and directors Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska release the newest Hotel Transylvania movie with the film Hotel Transylvania: Transformania. Does this fourth entry in the franchise prove to expand more upon Dracula and his comical monster gang of friends or has the potential for this series lost its special “zing” mantra?
It’s a time for celebration as the Hotel Transylvania is have its anniversary monster jubilation, and Dracula (Brian Hull) is ready for retirement, eager to start a new chapter with his new love, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). However, when his human son-in-law, Johnny (Adam Samberg), decides to crank up the festivities, he ends up destroying the celebration, which causes Dracula to reevaluate his future, deciding to maintain ownership control of the monster castle for the foreseeable future. Feeling down in the dumps, Johnny desires to become a monster to fit in with Drac’s family and friends, with his wish being granted by Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), who reveals a “monsterification” ray gun capable of transforming the human into a monster. However, things don’t exactly pan out the right way, with the weapon managing to turn Drac into a human, while pals Murray (Keegan-Michael Key), Wayne (Steve Buscemi), Griffin (David Spade), Frankenstein (Brad Abrell), and Blobby are returned to their original forms. Panicking and out of energy to power the ray gun, Drac is sent to South America to find a new crystal for the machine, joined by Johnny, who views the adventure as a father in-law / son-in law bonding trip.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Borrowing some lines from my review Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation that I wrote back in 2018…. being a fan of animated movies, I remember seeing the various trailers (back in 2012) for Hotel Transylvania. Judging from the trailers, it looked interesting, but I actually didn’t go and see it in the theaters. I can’t remember the reason why I didn’t see it (I think I was busy at the time of its theatrical release), but I do remember seeing the movie a few years later. If I recall, I think it was a few months before the release Hotel Transylvania 2. Personally, I liked the first Hotel Transylvania as it was filled with plenty of monster fun (in a kid-friendly atmosphere) as well as plenty of comical bits. Plus, the voice talents throughout the characters (both major and minor ones) were great in it, especially Adam Sandler as Dracula and Adam Samberg as Johnny. After viewing that movie, I did watch Hotel Transylvania 2 when it got released in theaters and found it to be satisfying enjoyable. It did have a few problems, but it was still a fun continuation / sequel to the original film, with many of the voice talents return to the feature as well as Tartakovsky returning to the director’s chair. The same can be said with 2018’s Summer Vacation as the second sequel had a lot of fun throughout, despite having a few problematic areas. All in all, I found both Hotel Transylvania movies to be fun animated movies from an animation that’s considered to be more of a second-tier studio (i.e., a non-Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, or Illumination Entertainment).
This brings me back to talking about Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, a 2022 film and the fourth installment in the Hotel Transylvania series. After the conclusion of Summer Vacation, the narrative of Hotel Transylvania seemed to be somewhat complete, yet (of course) the ending leaves room for another installment adventure, which is probably why Transformania was eventually greenlit sometime after 2018 release. While I do welcome the idea of a Hotel Transylvania sequel, I did have a lingering feeling that a fourth entry in the franchise might stretch out the narrative a bit, especially because most of the story (the overall arching story) had come full-circle and closed a lot of the conflict / plot within Drac, Mavis, and Johnny. So, I was a bit surprised when I heard that a Hotel Transylvania 4 was announced sometime after Summer Vacation. After a while, however, I didn’t hear much about the upcoming film. It was until I read (online) that Hotel Transylvania 4 was going to skip a theatrical release (mostly due to the on-going effects of the COVID-19 pandemic) and that it was purchased by Amazon from Sony, which meant that Transformania was going to be exclusively released on Amazon Prime Video streaming. Right before the film was released on their, I decided to check out the film’s trailer and I wasn’t too impressed by it. To be sure, it looked the same style of goofy fun that I would expect from a Hotel Transylvania, but it just seemed like a bit unnecessary installment (as mentioned above). Plus, finding out that actor Adam Sandler was not a part of this project and replaced by a stand-in was a bit disappointing. Still, I did plan on seeing the film, but I decided to watch the movie later on as my schedule during January was a little crazy with work as well as trying to play “catch-up” with the 2021 movie releases. So, with all that done, cleared up, and I’m finally moving onto the 2022 movie releases, I decided to check out this latest Hotel Transylvania movie. And what did I think of it? Well, in a nutshell, it was just okay. While not deplorable or poorly made, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is a serviceable entry in the animated franchise that gets some things right as well as feeling more like a mad dash of cartoon mayhem that didn’t need to happen. There is entertainment value in the production, but just seems like subpar endeavor to the series.
Unlike the rest of the franchise, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is not directed by creator Genndy Tartakovsky, with directorial duties being passed onto both Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska for this animated sequel project. With both of their backgrounds found in animated endeavors (i.e., directing, animation, and storyboarding), Drymon and Kluska seems like suitable choices for helming an animated film such as a Hotel Transylvania installment, with the pair approaching the cartoon with keeping a lot of what made the franchise memorable. The result is something of a mixed bag (more on that below), but I felt that Drymon and Kluska did a decent job in making their own personal mark on the series, while also adhering to what Tartakovsky had did before. As a whole, Transformania does get some things right, with Drymon and Kluska providing plenty of moment that work, especially a few sequences that showcases the dramatic / heart scenes. As for the comedy, I think that Transformania keeps very much in-line with the rest of the Hotel Transylvania series, with the film staging plenty of memorable laugh-out-loud moments throughout the feature. The franchise has always been known for delving (sometimes relying heavily on) the comedy aspects and, while not entirely polished like the previous entries, I think that the comedy Transformania is good and still retains a lot of humorous jokes and gags that many can appreciate, especially the younger demographic. Overall, Drymon / Kluska’s Hotel Transylvania movie makes for a decent outing that finds the series signature of goofy monster slapstick comedy and a couple of heartfelt nuggets. What could’ve been better or worse, Transformania manages to find a middle ground, which is serviceable to watch, yet not as strong as past entries.
The story for Transformania is credited to Genndy Tartakovsky as well as Amos Vernon and Nunzio Randazzo, with the former director showcasing a few poignance moments in and out of the feature. While majority of the Hotel Transylvania movies are about the relationship between Drac and Mavis, Transformania smartly repositions the narrative to focus on the relationship between Drac and Johnny, Mavis’s human husband / Drac’s son-in law. It’s clever that the film follows the building bonds between Drac and Johnny, especially with their bodily transformations playing a part of the narrative being told. This is made even more apparent that the story of Transformania focuses on Johnny’s inherit acceptance of who he is…..be it monster or human, which coincides with Drac’s acceptance of his past relationship with his late-wife and his on-going relationship with his daughter. Overall, I think that the film’s core story could’ve been better handled, but, for what that is given, Transformania finds its rhythm in how it presents everything and how the film portrays the bonds between Drac and Johnny in the right / correct way.
In the presentation category, Transformania is good overall, yet still not the best at what the series can offer, especially from some of the earlier installments. To be sure…. the Hotel Transylvania has always carried its own particular animated swagger on how it presents its background setting as well as the various characters (monster and human alike) within its surroundings. Transformania retains that certain style of animation throughout the entire picture, but does lack the ingenuity and creativeness that the previous movies were able to achieve. The first film made good use of references to hotel life / themes, while Summer Vacation utilized staying on a cruise ship fun and humorous. Transformania, while trying to South America, sort of lacks the creative fun. Don’t get me wrong, the color palette for the film still looks great and bright, but nothing really stands out as much. Nevertheless, I do praise the efforts by Michael Isaak (art direction) and Richard Daskas (production design) as well as the animators for making Transformania colorful and inviting to watch. Also, the film’s score, which was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, does a good job in making the film’s musical composition come alive by hitting the right tones of comedy, heart, and dramatic nuances. Overall, solid work on Mothersbaugh.
Unfortunately, while the movie is not a complete trainwreck, Transformania ends up having several problem points of criticism, which makes the feature being the weakest entry in the entire Hotel Transylvania series. How so? Well, for the most part, the movie does seem a bit unnecessary. What do I mean by that? Basically, as I mentioned above, the conclusion of Summer Vacation pretty much concluded most of the major plot threads of the franchise. Drac found a new love, Mavis accepted it, Mavis and Johnny are happy together, etc. So, the idea of continuing the main narrative thread of the Hotel Transylvania seems a bit redundant and a tad superfluous, especially since the story (for the entire series) really didn’t need to be expanded upon further. This, of course, makes the movie itself feel unnecessary right from the off by adding a sort of coda entry to the franchise that doesn’t really need to be told. Of course, the story in Transformania does manage to find some poignant meaning, yet (at the same time) lacks the same type of memorable narrative bits that the previous installments were able to achieve. Naturally, the film’s slapstick comedy helps elevate this particular point of criticism, but it’s hard to justify another endeavor in the Hotel Transylvania franchise. Thus, while Transformania tries to make an impact on the series, it actually ends up being superfluous and weakest entry.
In addition to this notion, the film certainly does lack the finesse of direction, especially (as mentioned above) that creator Genndy Tartakovsky did not helm this particular project. While the reason behind such a decision isn’t fully disclose, one can easily see the differences between what Tartakovsky did with the previous animated films and what Drymon / Kluska do with Transformania. As stated, the Hotel Transylvania movies don’t have the same type of caliber as a Disney / Pixar endeavor, but still manage to make for some good fun cartoon tomfoolery with its comedic angst and gags, which was mostly in part of Tartakovsky’s efforts. Unfortunately, the combined efforts by Drymon and Kluska are only decent at best, which makes Transformania seem like a cheaper / subpar entry in the animated series. This can be coupled with several noticeable areas, including pacing, narrative progression, and a too wide of focus on a variety of characters. It’s not a trainwreck of an endeavor, for Drymon and Kluska do manage to salvage some elements that are fun and inherit to the franchise, yet it just feels like the project just feels like a middling production that never really goes anywhere nor doesn’t drum up the same type of motivation as the previous movies. Additionally, the film’s ending seems a bit rushed as the final minutes of Transformania try to wrap up everything, yet feels hollow and haphazardly put together, which is odd considering that this film is supposed to be the final entry of the franchise.
The voice talents involved in Transformania are mostly solid across the board, with a lot of returning actors and actresses reprising their roles from the previous installments. That being said…. perhaps the biggest change up to the voices for Transformania is the omission of actor Adam Sandler, who had provided the voice for Hotel Transylvania’s main protagonist of Dracula. In Transformania, the character of Drac is voiced by actor Brian Hull, who is known for Pop Star, Puppy Star Christmas, and Monster Pets: A Hotel Transylvania Short Film. Given the fact that he had previously done work in Monster Pets as Drac, Hull seems like a suitable stand-in replacement for Sandler, for he does do a decent job in mirroring Sandler’s voicework in the cartoon character. That being said, it just seems like a “poor mans” iteration of the Sandler’s voice as sometimes it works, while other times it does. Hull just like the official pizzazz and energy that Sandler was able to achieve, which made Dracula that much more fun and memorable. It is quite unclear why Sandler decided to opt out from participating in Transformania, but his absence in the film is missed. Personally, while I’m not the biggest fan of Sandler movies of recent, I did really like him as Drac in the Hotel Transylvania films. So…on a personal level…having Hull replacing Sandler in the movie is a bit of a sour note and a disappointment….to a certain degree. Still, regardless of that point, I think Hull did a decent job as Dracula in Transformania.
Beyond the character of Dracula, the other two important characters in the film would be Mavis and Johnny, Drac’s daughter and human son-in law. Fortunately, unlike the replacement of Sandler, both actress / musician Selena Gomez and actor Andy Samberg return to their Hotel Transylvania post in reprising their roles….and more for the better. Of the two, Samberg, who is known for his roles in Palm Springs, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Saturday Night Live, gets more of the spotlight and character growth in Transformania, with the character of Johnny becoming more of focal point of the feature, which is a good thing especially after Summer Vacation sort of made him a secondary character. Thankfully, the story of Johnny gets more incorporated into the main narrative in this movie and feels more important to what is going on, especially in his relationship with Drac throughout the film. Gomez, who is known for her roles in Spring Breakers, Monte Carlo, and Wizards of Waverly Place, does still continue to be a solid voice work in bringing the character of Marvis to life; a combination of wit and charm to make her role memorable throughout. The only problem, however, is that the story being told in Transformania doesn’t seem to revolve much around her in comparison to the other Hotel Transylvania entries. Still, for better or worse, Gomez is good as Mavis.
Of the supporting players, the only acting talent that doesn’t return for Transformania, is actor Kevin James (a frequent collaborator of Sandler), who originally provided the voice for Frank (i.e. Frankenstein’s monster) for the past three Hotel Transylvania movies. James is replaced in Transformania by actor Brad Abrell (Men in Black and SpongeBob SquarePants) and is a bit of a downgrade in my opinion. While Hull does give a somewhat familiar tone of sounding like Sandler as Drac, Abrell can’t quite make his voice sound like James, which makes the character of Frank (or rather the voice of Frank) seem a bit awkward and off-putting….as if trying to do a bad impersonation that doesn’t go well.
The rest of the characters are returning voice talents from the previous films and are sprinkled throughout the feature. This includes actor Asher Blinkoff (Bling and The Jungle Book) as Mavis and Johnny’s son Dennis, actor Jim Gaffigan (Away We Go and Chappaquiddick) as the monster hunter Van Helsing, actress Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms and WandaVision) as Drac’s new love interest and Van Helsing’s great, great granddaughter, actress Fran Drescher (The Nanny and Happily Divorced) as Frank’s wife Eunice, actor Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire and Reservoir Dogs) as the werewolf Wayne, actress Molly Shannon (Superstar and Never Been Kissed) as Wayne’s wife Wanda, actor David Spade (Tommy Boy and Joe Dirt) as Griffin (i.e. the Invisible Man), actor Keegan Michael-Key (Pitch Perfect 2 and Keanu) as the ancient mummy Murray, and even Genndy Tartakovsky returns to reprise his small vocal performance for the character of Blobby (I know it’s a running gag character, but I do love the character of blobby). Like before, these players are side / supporting characters in the movie and, while have some larger than others, most of the vocal talents involved bring their genuine “A” game in bring these characters to life with their energetic and animated voices. Perhaps the only the downside (as mentioned above) is that some of the primary characters of the past films (i.e., Ericka and Dennis) are pushed aside in Transformania, which is disappointing.
In order to avoid catastrophe of a “monster” transformation, Dracula, Johnny, Mavis, and the rest of the gang must go on journey to switch everything back in the movie Hotel Transylvania: Transformania. Directors Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska’s latest film enters the animated adventures of humans and monster within the fourth installment of this cartoon tale. While the film still retains the signature variety of humor and sentiment that had proceed before as well as a solid voice talent casting across the board, the movie does seem to struggle slightly due to the formulaic narrative, lacking strength in a few areas, and a rushed conclusion, especially for a final entry endeavor. Personally, I thought that this movie was okay. It wasn’t horrible or poorly made as the film did produce some highlighted moments throughout, but it just felt like problematic in a key area and wasn’t as strong as some of the previous installments. Also, the absence of Sandler (and even James) is something I felt in the movie…lacking their usually pizzazz vocals. This, of course, makes (at least in my opinion) Transformania the weakest Hotel Transylvania entries. Still, the movie is still manageable and serviceable for a slapstick goofy animated feature for kids out there, which is why I would give my recommendation for the film a solid “rent it” as it will pass the time for those out there looking for some animated distraction. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything poignant, but it is something to be expected from this franchise of animated monsters. While it has been confirmed that this movie is the last in the series, it wouldn’t surprise me if another sequel endeavor will be planned in the near future. Hopefully, if one does materialize, it will provide something new and refreshing to its presentation, but (as I said) it’s pretty much concluded everything. Thus, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, while the least impactful of the saga, does what it sets out to do…. depicting the final installment in the story of Dracula, Mavis, Johnny, and the whole gang in a cartoon adventure that is easy to digest, funny at times, and finding a few fleeting moments of heart.
3.5 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: January 14th, 2022
Reviewed On: March 30th, 2022
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is 97 minutes long and is rated PG for some action and rude humor, including cartoon nudity