The Hotel Transylvania films have been a staple of Sony Pictures Animation since the surprise box office breakout success of the 2012 original. Somehow, here we are almost exactly ten years later. Instead of a properly fitting October debut, the pandemic has essentially force-shuffled many movies around. Foregoing a traditional theatrical release, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania heads to Amazon Prime during the January “dumping grounds” period often synonymous with releasing low-quality films. These movies have never been high art, but the combination of gothic themes and game voice cast of Adam Sandler frequent collaborators has been harmonious over the course of the previous three movies. This time around, the magic is lacking. Fun hijinks ensue thanks to a zany premise, but the comedy has been zapped of its adults edges.
Hotel Transylvania is celebrating its 125th birthday—what better way for Dracula (this time voiced by Brian Hull) to finally put in for his retirement! Going into the event, Dracula has a whole speech prepared in which he plans to leave the hotel in the good hands of his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), and her love, Jonathan (Andy Samberg). Nerves however get the best of him. Instead, Dracula merely announces that he will “expand” the hotel by adding an additional bathroom in the lobby. Dracula flat-out lies about the hotel’s management needing to be monsters, and it turns out that Van Helsing has just the thing for that.
Helsing’s “Monsterfication Ray”—basically a human/monster reversal—goes dangerously haywire after turning Jonathan into a dragon-like monster, and subsequently Dracula into a balding human with a huge beer gut and deep bags under his eyes. Dracula is forced to team up with Jonathan on a treacherous father/son bonding trip. The duo races against the clock to reverse the effects of the ray before time runs out. Key to their plan is that Mavis and Dracula’s wife absolutely cannot find out about their spontaneous journey.
Giggles are had, mainly from the characters we have followed for years transforming. A naked invisible man, the blob turning to literal jello, and Frank, now with an amazing body and perfectly-coiffed hair are among the casualties. On the flip side, Dracula and Johnny are both having opposite experiences. Johnny loves everything about being a monster, whilst Dracula endures all the worst things about being human (including “swamp butt,” bad body odor, a pollen allergy, and the horrors of flying.)
It is hard to deny the obvious: Hotel Transylvania 4 feels very 2000s direct-to-video. If not for the mostly all-star voice cast and high quality of the animation, I would struggle to believe this was even theater-worthy in the first place. The glaring omission of Adam Sandler is unfortunate, and I immediately noticed it in the first scene. When the gang is reunited heading towards the final act, a ticking clock element is introduced. This finally allows the movie to evolve into a fun romp before devolving back to a treacly, predictable conclusion. If this is our final visit to Hotel Transylvania, I wish we had gone out on a better note.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania zaps onto Amazon Prime video on Friday, January 14th.