Hotel Transylvania has been a nice little cottage industry for Sony Pictures Animation. Cartoon legend, Genndy Tartakovsky, somehow got involved, to the extreme benefit of Sony, and lo and behold, we’re now at four Hotel Transylvania films. It’s one of the longest runs on any series (with consistency) in his career. Well, if you can count his work on Hotel Transylvania: Transformania.
I’ll be upfront: the lack of Tartakovsky’s touch is sorely felt. While Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is a watchable family popcorn affair (especially streaming for free), his “story by” credit, as one of three co-writers, and the lack of his direction couldn’t be more obvious. Here, a convenient “transformation” ray turns Johnny (Drac’s daughter’s husband) into a monster because the plot calls for it.
So, the intro sort of twists into knots to explain it, but Drac is going to turn over the titular hotel to his daughter and his son-in-law, before the latter ruins it by overselling his drastic redesign plans before the deal is sealed. Drac backpedals, lies, and says that only monsters can own the hotel. So, Johnny, within seconds, seeks out someone a few feet away that can turn him into a monster: Bada bing, he’s a green dragon thing, a form he’ll remain in throughout the film.
Inversely, the werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Frankenstein’s monster (Bad Abrell), the Invisible Man (David Spade) and the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key) are turned into humans through a haphazard reverse-use of the same ray. And that’s pretty much the joke.
The “all the interesting monsters turn to humans” angle felt like an excuse to sleepwalk through a lot of the scenes. The first film is a genuinely fun take on the Dracula formula, with a few twists and turns. Hotel Transylvania 2, while using the tired “meet the parents” setup, also has several surprises up its sleeve with Mavis and Johnny’s half-human-half-vampire son. And Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is all over the place with its “vacation” angle, leading to some strange but ultimately entertaining scenes.
“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania fell apart at the script.”
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania basically has none of that. It’s a very “point A to B” checklist that gets its jokes out of the way immediately, then follows a general adventure blueprint until it’s all over. Now there’s a few classic Hotel Transylvania heart-to-hearts in there, mostly led by Hull’s Drac, but the broad strokes of the story are so predicable that chunks of the movie could be excised. It’s a shame, because the animation is still fantastic as a rule, especially when it comes to the emotive power of the character models.
Although he’s ninth billed on the cast list, impressionist Brian Hull deserves an award for taking over for Adam Sandler in the lead role of Drac. He does most of the emotional and comedic heavy lifting (as Drac tends to do in these films), while somehow emulating Sandler’s inflection and putting up a decent performance with what he’s given.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania fell apart at the script. It has enough juice to keep families in their seats for an hour and change, but not enough to keep things memorable, or continue to cement the relevance of this franchise going forward. If there is a fifth film, I hope Tartakovsky has more time to devote to it.