‘Hotel Transylvania: Transformania’ Closes the Franchise With a Ghoulishly Sweet Lesson About Fitting In
Animated films can sometimes deliver some surprising lessons for its young audiences. “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” has a standard message about being yourself but within the greater challenge of pleasing your in-laws. If the kids will endlessly giggle it’s the adults who might find real fright with this sort of plot. This also happens to be the fourth and reportedly final entry in the “Hotel Transylvania” franchise, which kicked off in 2012 with the cute concept of taking a few classic movie monsters and turning them into a buddy/family comedy. As a closing chapter this one works by trying to reach for more mature territory. It’s still the kind of movie where magic gems can turn you into a monster or goblins fly creaky airplanes, yet that never stops it from saying something sincere about growing up.
“Transformania” finds hotel owner and monster patriarch Count Dracula or “Drac” (Brian Hull) taking over from Adam Sandler) contemplating retirement. Daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) is now old enough to take over the family business and run Hotel Transylvania. But the vampire starts getting second thoughts when Mavis’s husband, the very human Jonathan (Andy Samberg) gets a little too excited. Now Drac’s mind gets plagued with visions of Jonathan turning the spooky hotel into a hip, colorful resort. When Dracula backtracks from his plans, Jonathan feels so guilty he begs Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) to turn him into a monster so he can really fit into the family. Van Helsing has designed just the kind of crystal-powered ray gun to make it happen. The device works and Jonathan becomes a big, dragon-like monstrosity (while retaining his goofy personality) but there’s an accident that now turns Drac human. Even worse, the crystal is accidentally fired into a punch bowl and now invisible man Griffin (David Spade), Frankenstein or “Frank” (Brad Abrell), Egyptian mummy, Murray (Keegan-Michael Key), and wolfman, Wayne (Steve Buscemi), are stuck being human too.
As far as animated family entertainments go, “Transformania” is light on its feet and enjoyable as a small lesson on a particular life challenge. Originally a Sony release for 2021, pandemic delays led to the movie being sold to Amazon, so now families can simply enjoy it at home as a streaming option. Directors Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska keep the “Hotel Transylvania” essentials while acknowledging that time passes and with it come more mature adjustments. The usual animated film tends to be about someone wanting to fit into the popular crowd, Jonathan needs to impress his in-law or risk losing his wife’s inheritance. Family is a nice enough concept, but it’s easy to forget that marriage entails marrying into someone else’s little clan and having to adapt. Drac’s fears are a hilarious allegory for those difficult parents who won’t approve of their offspring marrying someone with the wrong job or social class. Because the franchise is now hitting a decade since the first movie, there is an extra nostalgia kick in seeing much of the regular cast return. Selena Gomez has practically grown up with these films, as she told Entertainment Voice, “It’s been such a pleasure playing this character and also growing up. I was in a different phase in my life during the first time. So it’s actually been kind of wonderful to be able to kind of grow up with this character. Mavis is definitely tough and is always worrying. I think that matches my personality. I just want things to run smoothly (laughs).”
“Transformania” follows a familiar formula that still works because of the nature of the story. Drac and Jonathan must of course go off to find the crystal that will turn everyone back to their usual form. This will entail flying to South America, where the crystal they need is inside a cave with an opening shaped like gaping jaws. Getting there is a rough ride on a rickety old plane flown by goblins who keep the wings together with duct tape. Drac has to learn his lesson by enduring such trials now as a human, while Jonathan enjoys the perks of being a monster. A fall into a South American lake can mean a pack of piranhas snapping at your arms and legs. There’s always a catch to change and Van Helsing discovers that the crystal’s effects are ongoing. You don’t just become a monster, you keep transforming until you’re a mindless beast, as he discovers when his pet hamster becomes a snarling purple menace. So there’s a dual lesson here for Jonathan as well: Forcing yourself to be someone else doesn’t always have the best consequences.
“You’ve seen the style of animation they do which is so fun and exaggerated. I still giggle watching the gesticulations they give the characters. But this time around, doing the recording, you know they want you to go insane. That’s actually liberating and freeing. You’re never going to get someone saying, ‘hey you’re doing too much’ (laughs),” Samberg told Entertainment Voice about the spirit of making the “Hotel Transylvania” movies. That tone is obvious throughout. It’s the energy of it all that makes “Transformania” entertaining enough as a farewell to this franchise. For longtime fans it will be a treat to see Frank, Griffin, Murray and Wayne also zapped into humanhood. Griffin is a lanky type, Murray is a tiny, aged Egyptian who looks like a sweet grandpa, Wayne looks like a stressed out office worker and Frank becomes a muscled hunk. Fran Drescher is back with snappy fun as Eunice, Frank’s wife who starts getting annoyed at his newfound vanity. Notice there are no song and dance numbers in this movie. “Transformania” is pure comedy for children. It thrives on its gags and oddball look, like Van Helsing wheeling around in his mechanical body or Blobby, who also gets zapped by the crystal and becomes an actual slab of jello. There is no spoiler in saying this movie has a happy ending. What counts is that it closes the “Hotel Transylvania” movies with good enough humor, whacky visuals and subject matter adults can take to heart now while giving the kids some prep notes for what’s coming their way in the future, if they choose to tie the knot that is.
“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” begins streaming Jan. 14 on Amazon Prime Video.