‘Hotel Transylvania: Transformania’ Film Review: Fourth Entry Is Freaky and Familiar, but Doesn’t Scare the Laughs Away

Adam Sandler and Kevin James have moved on, but the franchise maintains its gift for well-crafted, creepy silliness

Hotel Transylvania Transformania
Sony Pictures Animation

“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” proves yet again the durability and well-crafted nature of Sony’s animated monster-adventure comedies. The company says that “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” will be the fourth and final movie in the kid-friendly fantasy series. It’s also the first “Hotel Transylvania” movie to not be directed by Genndy Tartakovsky (“Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Samurai Jack”) — Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska take the reins — though Tartakovsky has a story and a co-writer credit (along with Nunzio Randazzo and Amos Vernon).

Tartakovsky and his co-creators’ knack for visual gags and their love of cartoon physics distinguish the “Hotel Transylvania” movies, which perennially follow the goofy and over-protective Count Dracula (previously voiced by Adam Sandler, now Brian Hull) as he and his monster buddies struggle to accept Drac’s hippie-ish human son-in-law Johnny (Andy Samberg). And while “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” pilfers the same graveyard that spawned the previous three entries, it’s still a perfectly enjoyable rehash of those earlier movies’ successes.

“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” starts with a sappy affirmation of the series’ domestic focus — a wistful Drac slow-dances with his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) to a slightly modified version of “Just the Two of Us” — but soon becomes a showcase for monster gags and the series’ celebrity voice-actor cast.

Through a series of contrived and ultimately negligible missteps, Dracula and his “Drac Pack” friends, including Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wayne the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi), are transformed into unhappy humans by a magical whatsit. A typically klutzy but eager Johnny tries to win over his father-in-law by transforming into a goofy-looking dragon and leading an expedition to remote South America, home of the only known cure for Dracula’s and Johnny’s respective transformations. The two are followed and inevitably joined by the rest of the Drac Pack, led by Mavis and by Dracula’s doting monster-hunter wife Ericka Van Helsing (Kathryn Hahn).

Like the previous movies, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” glides by without belaboring its general theme of accepting your family for who they are. Unlike the last few movies, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” has more side characters than the creators of most animated series would know what to do with, particularly Ericka and her cranky great-grandfather Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan). Thankfully, the Drac Pack never really gets in the way of Dracula and Johnny’s amusing South American jungle adventure.

They also don’t really advance the plot since they’re only kinda uncomfortable with their newfound human attributes. Wayne’s considerable brood of werewolf puppies don’t recognize their dad as a human, while Griffin the invisible man (David Spade) has an unsightly body and a very pale behind. Frankenstein (Brad Abrell, taking over for Kevin James) enjoys being human since he now looks more handsome than he did when he was a bolt-necked corpse monster, but his wife Eunice (Fran Drescher) prefers the old Frank.

A similarly low-stakes tension motivates Johnny and Drac’s quest to restore the franchise’s status quo: Dracula tries and often fails to get along with Johnny, despite Johnny’s best efforts. Hull only mimics Sandler’s version of the character (very Borscht-belt-meets-baby-talk) and Samberg has already been and done what’s expected of him here, but their characters mostly work anyway, if only as props for composed and well-paced cartoon slapstick. Younger viewers will probably enjoy watching a human Dracula (with a beer gut, thinning hair and a floppy sun hat) get eaten alive by piranha and mosquitos; adults will hopefully be entertained by the snappy timing of the gags as well as the various characters’ expressive facial tics and body language.

The “Hotel Transylvania” movies may not be sophisticated comedies, but they are clearly made by gifted and engaged craftsmen, who, thanks to whatever fluke of circumstances, have been allowed to smuggle in just enough personality to the latest studio-produced computer-generated animated series. And while many of the jokes in “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” probably won’t linger in your mind, they are still fairly well-executed.

The “Hotel Transylvania” movies don’t chase after the trends set by more prominent or celebrated animation studios who shall remain nameless, but rather settle for the sort of dopey shenanigans that you might hope for — or at least expect — from a bunch of kids’ movies about a family of monsters. Animation fans can read into Tartakovsky and his team’s clever, winking jokes, and viewers of all ages will appreciate how zippy and energetic this latest movie tends to be, despite its non-existent plot.

The makers of “Transformania” succeed where many other sequels fail simply by focusing on the set-up and execution of a few simple, silly gags, like when Dracula gets attacked (and pooped on) by some birds of paradise, or when Johnny punches holes in the sides of a slow-moving tourist bus and gallops around the South American countryside like an unholy hybrid of Fred Flintstone and Trogdor the Burninator. The simple incidental pleasures of “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” can probably still be appreciated at home and don’t really need to be hyped up beyond noting that what wasn’t already broken in the previous “Hotel Transylvania” movies still works in this fourth and presumably final chapter.

“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” premieres Jan. 14 on Prime Video.