Ok, I promise that next time I’ll actually review a horror movie since it seems all three of my movies so far have been either horror-hybrids or in the case of today’s movie, not a horror movie at all. Still, there is something to be said for movies that scratch that spooky itch this time of year, but are scary enough to be suitable for people that “don’t do scary movies”. The Hotel Transylvania series has been a pretty reliable presence in this genre for the past decade or so, as it’s not quite as lazy as you would think an Adam Sandler animated franchise would be. While this latest installment still has the same playful animation style established by Genndy Tartakovsky that has made these movies great leisurely watches, the fact that the Sandman is missing and the lack of doing much new with these characters (not to mention its streaming-only release) can’t help but feel like these movies might be on their last legs.
If you’ve never seen any of the Hotel Transylvania movies, the premise of them is pretty much there in the title: there’s a hotel in Transylvania where monsters and various creepy critters come to get away from the burdens of being misunderstood by humans. The owner of this hotel is who else but Dracula (voiced by Brian Hull doing a serviceable impression of Adam Sandler doing a sort-of impression of Bela Legosi), and this fourth installment begins at the 125th anniversary of Drac’s hotel. His daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) overhears that Drac is planning on using the anniversary party to announce that he’s retiring, which would then leave her and her deadbeat husband Johnny (Andy Samberg) as the owners of the hotel. Since the idea of Johnny having a stake in the hotel scares Drac, he at the last minute decides not to announce his retirement, which devastates Johnny.
Since Johnny has always been aware that Drac pretty much hates him (which he should, he’s the worst), Johnny employs the services of Van Helsing to use a device to turn him into a monster. After doing this, Johnny becomes a doofy dragon-like creature and accidentally turns Drac into a human with Van Helsing’s device, which leads to the other monsters at the hotel also turning into humans. This is an admittedly fun premise, and there are some decent gags related to the fact that Frankenstein is now hot and Drac without his vampiric sheen looks vaguely like Steve Carrell. However, most of the plot revolves around the gang traveling to South America to track down a crystal that will enable them to use the transformation device to turn them back into monsters (and Johnny back into a human), which feels pretty uninspired, but then again, I guess this is for kids.
I suppose I just didn’t really need another “destination adventure” after the third Hotel Transylvania movie took place on a cruise ship. It makes the movie feel like Adam Sandler’s live-action comedies where it’s as if he made them just so he could go on vacation while they also just happened to be filming a movie. Of course, maybe that comparison is a little unfair since Sandler doesn’t seem as invested in the production of these movies, to the point where he wasn’t even able to voice Dracula in this installment. I couldn’t find the exact reason why Sandler wasn’t able to lend his voice to Transformania, but I’ll just assume it was because he was busy filming the much better Hustle, which also came out this year.
Either way, I did find myself missing Sandler’s voice talents more than I thought I would. He was never perfect casting to play any incarnation of Dracula, but there is something kind of charming about the energy he brought to the role, especially when it brought to mind the wackier characters he used to play on Saturday Night Live. As for the rest of the cast, pretty much all of the voice actors for the series likable bunch of spooky characters return, except for Kevin James, who is almost certainly not a bigger star than Selena Gomez or Andy Samberg at this point. So even though this film overall doesn’t feel quite as fresh as the other movies (which were never that fresh to begin with considering their reliance on existing characters), it still doesn’t quite feel like your typical straight-to-streaming kids’ movie either.
This is because the animation is just as pristine and filled with inventive sight gags as ever. I was a bit surprised by this considering the fact that this wasn’t a theatrical release, though makes a bit more sense after reading that this was originally intended to go to theaters, but the Delta variant kept that from happening. So in the end, you get a movie that isn’t a huge step down from the other movies, but since it does feel a bit like this series is spinning its wheels and Adam Sandler isn’t even interested in it, maybe like old Drac in this movie, it’d be best if this series threw itself a little retirement party.