Adam Sandler bowed out of this fourth, and rumored to be final, entry in the Hotel Transylvania animated franchise, no small loss given Sandler brought to life the franchise's heart and soul with Dracula.
Brian Hull more than ably replaces Sandler, a replacement said to have offered the character the opportunity to head off in some different directions. Unfortunately, it also leads to a Dracula that feels less like Sandler's Hollywood vintage take on Dracula and more like the cartoonish Drac who shows up in this weary tale of a series that has never tried particularly hard but has always gotten by on its undeniable sweetness and good heart.
Now, it's just plain silly.
I've had an affection for the Hotel Transylvania films and, yes, this is partly due Sandler's presence and vocals that have always possessed an endearing goodness and goofy charm with just a hint of classic Hollywood menace. However, the Hotel Transylvania franchise has never really endeared itself in the way franchises like Toy Story, How to Train Your Dragon, or others have endeared themselves. The characters have always been quirky and fun, though for the most part light and meaningless. They've come to life because of Sandler and because of Genndy Tartakovsky's assured direction.
Tartakovsky has also bowed out as director for this one, replaced by the duo of Derek Drymon and Jennifer Klusky and just about every moment of Hotel Transylvania: Transformania feels like "Okay, this is the last one. Let's just get through it."
I've enjoyed the Hotel Transylvania films. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to miss the Hotel Transylvania films.
In Transformania, Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) has created a machine called the Monsterification Ray that, of course, goes completely awry and turns Drac and all his monster pals into humans while turning Johnny (Andy Samberg) into a monster. With Drac stripped of his usual powers and Johnny embracing life as a monster, change becomes more difficult than anyone could have imagined and the race is on to find a cure before it's too late.
There is still a good heart at the core of Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, though much of what made the first three films appealing is lost here. That's particularly concerning since the Hotel Transylvania films have never tried particularly hard to do anything special anyway. Here, however, we're saddled with characters we never quite believe in and a lack of monster logic that defies everything we've learned about these monsters over the course of the first three films. From the film's opening scene, a dreadful "I miss Adam Sandler" rendition of Drac singing "Just the Two of Us" to the film's overly bright and silly close as everything settles down, it becomes apparent that it's time for Hotel Transylvania to close.
It's a shame, really. There's good vocal work to be found here including Andy Samberg's always reliable work as Johnny, Selena Gomez's sweetness galore as Mavis, and Molly Shannon's work as a wacked out Wanda. Hull is no Sandler, though he's not asked to be here and once you get over the initial shock of a different voice a Drac everything does work out fine.
However, if you've ever wondered how much animated vocal work matters this film is a textbook example of the jarring shift that can take place when one actor replaces another.
Did I hate Hotel Transylvania: Transformania? Of course not. What is there to hate here? However, as has been true for the entire franchise there's also not much here to love and absent Adam Sandler there's also a tonal shift that certainly didn't work for me but may make the film more accessible to younger folks who found the first three films a tad took dark. When you've resigned yourself to the tiresome "body switch" storyline, it's time to say goodbye.
Goodbye, Hotel Transylvania.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic