Suppose it feels like I’m unfairly maligning the current state of box office performance. In that case, it’s because Transformia has real-world implications in its screenplay from Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo, and Genndy Tartakovsky.
In what has been touted as the fourth and final entry in the animated franchise, co-directors Jennifer Kluska and Derek Drymon step away from the drafting table and into the director’s chairs. They have a tight handle on the flow and animation in Transformania. Tartakovsky’s story is, at its heart, a look at legacy as Drac, voiced by Brian Hull replacing Adam Sandler from the first three films, faces his future.
Hull’s voice characterization isn’t as impactful as Sandler’s was, though he is every bit as fun. Transformania’s hijinks are blown out of proportion when a “Mosterfication Ray” goes haywire, turning Drac into a human. The story explores our feelings of mortality, limitations, and helplessness as humans. It reinforces the realization that we need each other, even our hapless sons-in-law like Johnny.
The rambunctious “Johnny” Loughran, voiced by Andy Samberg, is as loveable as a human as he is as a monster in a Freaky Friday-like switch between the two characters. Vernon, Randazzo, and Tartakovsky effectively put the audience in each character’s shoes. The story isn’t as simple as a switcheroo, though; actions speak louder than words or grumbles, and they have consequences too.
Drac and Johnny have their respective wives hot on their trail, along with a rather brilliant “Drac Pack.” Transformania’s characters work in a way that I couldn’t say the same for Sing 2. Perhaps it’s the way the story makes use of the characters, the feeling of being needed by one another, or better stated, a concern for one another.
Selena Gomez reprises her role as Mavis. She’s tough-as-nails but is also naïve. She wears her heart on her sleeve and with good intention. Kathryn Hahn as Ericka Van Helsing is a delight. She isn’t as quick to wear her heart on her sleeve. Her resourcefulness and inventiveness play a key role.
Making up the hilarious and fun “Drac Pack” are Steve Buscemi’s Wayne, David Spade’s “Griffin,” Richard Tyler Blevins’ Party Monster, and Keegan-Michael Key’s Murray. Their transformations are comical while adding gravitas to the proceedings.
There’s a fear of permanence buried in the story, fear of loss, guilt, and ultimately within us that the “Drac Pack” visually demonstrates. Through exposition and dialog, Drac, Johnny, Mavis, and Ericka all experience this. When you face change, power, and uncontrolled happiness or hatred, these feelings can occur. Change isn’t permanent, though we sometimes think it is a hallmark of this story.
Still, it was interesting to dig into this film’s production history. As Scott Mendelson over at Forbes opined, Sony had a burgeoning track record with this franchise, each entry making more money at the box office than the last. Why then did Sony sell the entry to Amazon?
The answer lies within the monster that is Covid and the ever-shrinking box office; one affects the other like the “Monsterfication Ray,” the box office was already beginning to shrink before the pandemic. With the monster variant Omicron’s transmissibility still unchecked, parents are keen to keep their children out of harms’ way. That’s sensible. Yet, Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home is still going strong, as is Universal’s family-friendly Sing 2. The distinct difference lies in Drac’s anti-hero character turning a dime; the other films have heroes to admire and look up to, events that we can only dream of; both are forms of escapism, a motive inherent in the moving arts.
Is it possible that with Sandler stepping down from the role, interest in the movie wasn’t as strong as it might have been? Indeed, though, the film doesn’t suffer from his absence. The strength of its supporting characters makes Transformia sing (pardon the pun.)
The pandemic is also a consideration. Sony is the only distributor that does not have its streaming platform. A partnership with Amazon provides the opportunity for families over this long holiday weekend to enjoy the film at home.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformia doesn’t have the same gas as its predecessors; however, I wouldn’t be disappointed if I watched it again.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformia
Directed by Jennifer Kluska and Derek Drymon
Screenplay by Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo, and Genndy Tartakovsky
Story by Genndy Tartakovsky, based on Characters by Todd Durham
Starring Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kathryn Hahn, Jim Gaffigan, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Brian Hull