Monday, January 10, 2022

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is a monstrously forgettable animated sequel


The binary nature of online film criticism can often boil movies down to being either the best thing ever or the absolute worse creation foisted on an unsuspecting Earth. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is an unexpected reminder of why nuance is a necessary ingredient in these kinds of discussions. The fourth installment in the long-running Hotel Transylvania franchise isn't necessarily bad, even by the standards of animated kid's movie sequels. But boy is it perfunctory. The whole film feels like an obligation, resulting in a viewing experience that isn't torturous so much as it is instantly forgettable.

Dracula (Brian Hull, taking over the role from Adam Sandler) is preparing to finally retire after running the titular Hotel Transylvania for centuries. He's decided to leave this vacation destination to his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and, by proxy, her human husband Johnny (Andy Samberg). Dismayed at the thought of a goofball like Johnny taking over his beloved hotel, Dracula tells his son-in-law that he can't legally hand over the place to a human. This results in Johnny using a magical crystal to turn himself into a dragon while the fantastical object also manages to turn Dracula and his cohorts into humans. Reversing these spells will require a dangerous trek to South America to pursue a new crystal while also forcing Dracula and Johnny to work together.

After Hotel Transylvania: Summer Vacation finally gave this series some comedic oomph by focusing squarely on absurdist gags and strange visuals, Transformania, unfortunately, brings things down to Earth again. For one thing, Dracula and Johnny are back to being antagonistic with each other like all the other sequels never happened. It's never a good sign when comedy sequels just backtrack character development to justify lazy narratives (see: Anchorman 2). Meanwhile, turning the monsters into humans largely removes any chances of doing monster-centric gags that could only work in this franchise. The majority of the jokes are instead focused on generic beats related to the monsters dealing with everyday human ailments like loss of hair, mosquito bites, and not being able to fly. 

Transformania also stunningly miscalculates where its strengths lie by turning over a shocking amount of screentime to poignant moments. This includes a nails-on-the-chalkboard monologue in the climax from Dracula meant to wrap up the primary emotional storyline of the whole production. But does anyone care about the Hotel Transylvania crew to this degree? Leave the big moments of pathos to PIXAR movies. Across this series, the best Hotel Transylvania moments have been ones leaning on slapstick and visual gags that could only be accomplished in animation. Nobody comes to these movies to cry. Given that, it's a bummer Transformania tries so hard to be a tearjerker and comes off so hollow in its attempts at these beats to boot.

It's not all necessarily a wash, of course. There are some fun character designs to be found in translating recognizable monsters like The Mummy or The Wolfman into everyday humans. Meanwhile, the colorful animation remains as vibrant as ever. Returning voice performers like Kathryn Hahan admirably refuse to sleepwalk through an easy paycheck gig. Meanwhile, though Genndy Tartakovsky has left directorial duties this time around to Jennifer Kluska and Derek Drymon, it's nice that Transformania maintains its predecessor's love for squashing and stretching computer-generated characters to their limits. Plus, young kids are bound to still like Transformania, it'll work fine as a babysitter. 

That's about the highest compliment I could pay this newest installment in the Hotel Transylvania saga, though. The whole thing's just a miscalculated exercise that feels especially strained on a storytelling level, with Transformania constantly feeling like it's sweating to figure out how to stretch its premise to a feature-length runtime. This is exemplified by how 19 minutes of Transformania's 97-minute length is comprised of credits. Though obviously not the worst movie of all time, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is an exceedingly disposable enterprise, one that not even Adam Sandler could be bothered to show up for. 

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