You’d think the fourth installment of Hotel Transylvania may have been a money-grabber with a narrative a bit long in the tooth. After a lackluster Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation riff with a weird cruise, a return of Drac’s historical arch-nemesis Van Helsing, and a new zing for an old soul, most audiences tired of the entire Drac, Mavis, and Johnny dramatic triumvirate. And I found they were right.
The premise for Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania finds Drac (in this fourth installment voiced by Brian Hull rather than Adam Sandler) considering retirement after 175 years running the hotel but having some second thoughts about turning over his beloved hotel to Mavis and the human son he never wanted and with whom he struggles to maintain a relationship. Johnny (Andy Samberg) is ecstatic to learn about Drac’s plan to leave him and Mavis (Selena Gomez) the hotel and becomes overly excited causing Drac to backpedal.
Drac lies to Johnny by telling him he can’t inherit the hotel as a human. Johnny, always the solution seeker, works with Van Helsing (who now has his lab in the hotel’s basement) to turn him into a monster. Through the farcical mishaps that Hotel Transylvania is known for, Drac and his besties all become human. I found this premise interesting as I’ve enjoyed those body-swap comedies like Freaky Friday and Like Father Like Son over the years, but it can’t be that easy. The longer Johnny stays a monster the more likely he is to lose his true self, but of course, the apparatus that changed them was broken, and the only way to repair it takes the cast to a remote jungle cave. The trailers looked interesting, so I was eager to see it.
With that said, I hoped beyond hope to find some gems in this one. I was excited to tell my fifteen-year-old step-daughter that she could watch the screener with me, but she passed and mumbled something about ‘milking the plot’. Always an idealist, I hoped she was wrong. Alas, there wasn’t much more. I did convince my 16-year-old to sit down to watch it, but she’s pretty open to whatever, and afterward, her only real comment was that the movie is made for little kids with none of the humor being geared towards anyone over the age of eight. I had to agree with both of these premises. The 94-minute length felt exasperatingly short and while I wanted a lot more plot (any real plot?), I couldn’t begin to think what else they could do. This film was more an exploration of these monsters if they were to be human but that’s about it. Each of the films in the series ends with Drac and Johnny having some sort of father/son bond. I did find it cute in this film and also the second installment (as the father of daughters who are teens, I can relate), but the entire trope of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes to better understand them has been so overused in narratives. Not to mention Drac and Johnny already had their big moment in the second film, so recycling this scene was just sloppy storytelling.
This moment in this film came over a campfire while roasting marshmallows. A minor plot element that the writers stretched into the climax of the narrative. Writers Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo, and Genndy Tartakovsky (the director of the first three films) seemed to really have no original ideas so they milked the parent-child relationship (while all but ignoring grandchild Dennis who was barely in the film) and added some more badassery to Ericka, Drac’s bride added to the family dynamic in the third film, who is like the female, well-dressed female Macgyver with her fancy vehicle blasting through South American jungles.
As mentioned earlier, one of the only interesting elements from the film was the transformation from monster to human for the secondary cast. Each of Drac’s buddies’ human transformations is indicative of their personalities. Frank (Brad Arbell here, voiced by Kevin James in the first three films) turns into a hunk of man meat with luscious locks and a healthy dose of narcissism. The invisible man, whose friends are all surprised that he’s always naked, looks like your middle-aged Jewish uncle if your uncle were Gene Wilder in his heyday. Murray the mummy (Keegan Michael-Key) with now, 3,000-year-old skin like to flap his waddle and excessive skin while Blobby the Jello literally becomes a blog of jello with eyes. While these changes were fun the plot was incredibly predictable – if you can call it a plot at all.
Speaking of the plot resolutions, Drac has for decades protected his daughter and doesn’t truly allow her freak flag to fly. This continues into this film when he puts everyone else between him and his daughter by making them promise to not tell her what he is up to. This unhealthy communication, lack of healthy boundaries, and nefarious subterfuge send horrible messages to children who attempt to develop into healthy adults through support and honesty from those adults who should care most for them.
As an adult who grew up with the run of popular 1990s Disney films and then later smart animated movies of the early 2000s like Coco, Finding Nemo, and Shrek when my kid was young, I expect writers to include inside jokes, hidden mature comedic bits, and smart writing to keep parents engaged. If you’re looking for that here, you won’t find it. The entire film is just a journey to fix the thingamabob and return everyone to their usual selves. Once they do, we have the cute father-son moment and the cliched ‘walking in your shoes’ understanding of one another, before wrapping up the film at a lightning pace that would make your head swim.
If you’re looking for a ho-hum fourth installment on an average animated tale, feel free to waste your money on this one. If you’re looking for a banal plot with mediocre, recycled jokes, go for it!
About Hotel Transylvania: Transformania
Synopsis: When Van Helsing’s mysterious invention, the “Monsterfication Ray”, goes haywire, Drac and his monster pals are all transformed into humans, and Johnny becomes a monster. In their new mismatched bodies, Drac, stripped of his powers, and an exuberant Johnny, loving life as a monster, must team up and race across the globe to find a cure before it’s too late, and before they drive each other crazy. With help from Mavis and the hilariously human Drac Pack, the heat is on to find a way to switch themselves back before their transformations become permanent.
Directors: Derek Drymon, Jennifer Kluska
Writers: Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo, Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Brian Hull
Runtime: 1 Hour, 27 Minutes
Releases: January 14th, 2022 (USA)