Wrapping up a surprisingly successful series of ‘toons about a vampire hotelier and his coterie of bizarro pals, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania lets most of its monster protagonists take a brief, and not very relaxing, holiday as ordinary mortals.
Handing directing duties off to animation vets Jennifer Kluska and Derek Drymon, Genndy Tartakovsky sticks around as a cowriter and exec-producer, while Adam Sandler, erstwhile voice of Dracula, has escaped into the shadows entirely. (He’s replaced by Brian Hull, who sounds close enough to the original that kids probably won’t notice.) Never much to write home about in the script department — Tartakovsky excels in more stylish, less verbal fare like Samurai Jack — Transformania remains sufficiently goofy-sweet to please its target demo; those who find the humor toothless should at least appreciate the distinctive animation, which can be as energetically wacky as classic Looney Tunes.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania
Visually energetic, even when the storytelling is running on fumes.
By continuing even without Sandler (and Sandler’s pal Kevin James, who used to voice Frankenstein’s monster), the series tacitly acknowledges that it never cared as much about the musty old Count as about the youngsters invented for the first film. Drac’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her regular-human husband Johnny (Andy Samberg) are the characters kids are expected to identify with; everybody else is just supernatural comic relief. (Never mind that those side characters — the werewolves and mummies and such — are far more appealingly designed than those with top billing, including the generic-looking Count.)
In fact, Mavis and Johnny are about to inherit not just the movies’ attention but their titular hotel. Drac, ready to retire with his new wife Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), wants to hand the place over to them, but has second thoughts when Johnny starts gushing about the very non-spooky improvements he’d like to make to the place. Put on the spot, he claims to have discovered a real-estate law that prevents humans from owning the monster-centric resort.
But in-laws can be tough problems to fix. Thinking he has successfully foiled his son-in-law, Drac doesn’t anticipate a snag his father-in-law (the reformed vampire-hunter Van Helsing, voiced by Jim Gaffigan) will create. For some reason, the old man has a ray gun that can turn humans into monsters and vice-versa. He shoots the thing at Johnny, who is delighted to become a dude-sized dragon. Some antic violence ensues, and in the mayhem, Drac and all his best pals get zapped just in time for the gizmo to break, meaning they can’t be re-beastified.
The sequence in Van Helsing’s basement lab exemplifies some of the fun the animation team has here. Over the years, most of the mad scientist’s limbs have been replaced by steampunk robotics, and his overcluttered basement is full of tiny passageways he can only pass through after reconfiguring his body, Transformer-style. (Johnny, as we already know, is such an easygoing surfer-dood his body’s practically made of rubber; his fluid movements are the perfect match for Samberg’s sweet-stoner performance.)
The film’s gleefully kinetic visuals suit action scenes beautifully, of course, and there’s a fair bit of action to come. After learning that the transforma-gadget can only be fixed with a crystal buried in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, a now-mortal Drac and his dragon-in-law set off to the jungle without telling anybody. The script has some fun watching the rest of the crew at home, dealing with their transformed selves (what do you mean, the Invisible Man has been walking around naked all this time!?), before they realize where the fellas have gone and set out to save them.
Parents will almost certainly be less enthralled with the story than their kids, but would be wise not to tune out and start checking their email: Transformania’s saving graces are mostly easy-to-miss sight gags involving zombie bellhops, oversized hamster habitats and the dozens of werewolf kids being raised by the hotel’s resident lycanthrope couple. (Thank you, wolfman Steve Buscemi, for not following Sandler out the door.) The best thing about Hotel Transylvania may wind up being that it provided several years of profitable employment to visually witty artists who’ll go on to create much more interesting stuff of their own.