Cert – U, Run-time – 1 hour 28 minutes, Director – Derek Drymon, Jennife Kluska
Dracula (Brian Hull) and Johnny (Andy Samberg) travel to South America to find a crystal to power a machine which has reversed their human and monster forms, while those back at Hotel Transylvania are dealing with their own human troubles.
Towards the end of my review for Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation I stated that it’s perhaps time to put the nail in the coffin for this franchise. Not that it’s been in any way bad, however the feeling of repetition certainly began to settle in, particularly in terms of echoes of conventions from outside of the franchise. Yet, here we now are with a fourth entry that has been sent by the studio direct to streaming (through Amazon Prime). The case very much feels the same as we once again see Dracula (now played by Brian Hull doing a rather spot-on performance, instead of Adam Sandler) attempting to bond with daughter Mavis’ (Selena Gomez) human husband Johnny (Andy Samberg). It’s after he backtracks on his decision to hand his beloved century and a quarter old hotel to the couple when he fears that Johnny will transform it into an unrecognisable health spa of colour, instead of the gothic castle which it currently is.
After being told that the reason is simply because he’s not a monster Johnny receives help from Jim Gaffigan’s monsterfication ray wielding Van Helsing. However, while Johnny is happy in his dragon-like body things go wrong when Dracula and co are given human form – something which they must revert by finding a crystal to replace the now broken one which lies in the ray. Much of this happens within the first 15-20 minutes of the rather short 88 minute run-time – particularly within one lengthy opening scene. It’s clear that the film wants to set itself up quickly and get into the plot, but the general feel begins to come across as something like an extended TV episode rather than that of a fully-rounded feature film. While this somewhat fades away once the father son-in-law pairing travel to South America to find the crystal it lingers when jumping back to the titular hotel as the supporting set of characters (Frankenstein (Brad Abrell), wolfman Wayne (Steve Buscemi), invisible man Griffin (David Spade) – often the literal butt of the joke when it’s revealed that he’s been naked all these years – and mummy Murray (Keegan-Michael Key)) find themselves dealing with their own human transformations.
We see occasional tangents to the supporting figures, who it seems like the screenwriters aren’t quite sure what to do with for most of the feature, yet still feel obliged to include them. They wander around the hotel trying to hide from their respective partners in emphasised cartoonish manners (largely displayed in the animation style) in the hope their transformations aren’t discovered. It’s a set of sequences that, much like the core narrative, doesn’t overly hold a lot of laughs; but does manage to be something fairly watchable and harmless for the time that it’s on. Perhaps this is the film in the franchise most targeted towards kids rather than the family as a whole, with its standard narrative and occasionally emphasised Saturday-morning cartoon style.
When it comes to the course of the central narrative we’ve certainly seen it before; both within this series and out of it. It’s a recognisable one, but there’s just about enough within the film and its slight simplicity that helps hold this up and allow things to not feel completely tired and dead in the water, generally making for an easier watch overall. There are one or two chuckles (perhaps just that) and the cartoonish style to the animation helps move things along and excuse some of the more uncertain moments. While there may not be anything completely original here what we do get is done well enough to make for a passable and watchable feature that’s not too taxing and certainly doesn’t feel like a struggle. All feelings helped along by the fact that the film feels overall unpretentious. Not trying to be anything masterful or beloved by generations to come. It feels as if it’s simply trying to amuse people for the time it’s on in that moment. It’s a fairly standard entry into a franchise which may be becoming known for its more standard output.
We’ve certainly seen the lines that Hotel Transylvania: Transformania travels along before, both in and out of the franchise, but it’s just about held up by its emphasised cartoon style, particularly during uncertain scenes involving side-characters, and lack of pretentiousness.