All things come to an end and it seems that even immortal monsters have to say goodbye so that something new can begin. This is the relative theme coursing through the fourth, and reportedly final, installment of Sony Picture Animations’s Hotel Transylvania series, subtitled Transformania. This isn’t just a silly title or one meant to link to the hijinks which come from sole human Johnny (Andy Samberg) being turned into a monster or the Drac Pack being turned human, but is for the way in which change is inevitable and accepting that change is not only healthy, but the prime way to see the gooey stuff that makes life grand. At a time when there’s so much pessimism, Transformania offers a light respite that’s silly enough to entertain the kids and mature enough for the message to reach adults, too.
Things are going great around the Hotel Transylvania since the last adventure. Drac (voiced by Brian Hull this time) and beau Ericka (Kathryn Hahn) are looking to the future, Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) is all settled in in the basement, and daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) is a fantastic business partner for the hotel. But change is afoot when Johnny gets shot with Van Helsing’s Monsterfication Ray, turning him into a dragon, and Drac gets shot while trying to fix Johnny, turning him human. With time of the essence, the two set off to reverse their conditions, hopefully without killing each other in the process.
If it matters at all, I was unaware that Transformania is the final film before I began it and I wish I had been. I couldn’t help feeling like the conflict central to the film had been addressed before earlier in the series, so the narrative didn’t make much sense other than to create an opportunity for wacky fish-out-of-water-type situations. This feeling changes with the knowledge of impending finality. The specific reason that Johnny and Drac are transformed is less about situational comedy as it is about resolving underlying issues Drac never truly dealt with that this specific situation may help to at least acknowledge. Allow me to explain: something I’ve enjoyed about the Hotel Transylvania series is that it’s been grounded in loss and love, using monsters as ridiculous forms through which original director Genndy Tartakovsky (who has a story and screenplay credit on Transformania) could explore such material. It’s in the first film that Johnny’s accidental hiker stumbles upon the titular hotel and falls in love with Mavis, kicking off the first giant change in Drac’s life since his wife died. Since this film, the centered family has expanded to include Johnny and Mavis’s son Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), Drac’s father, Vlad (Mel Brooks), and with Summer Vacation (2018), added the Van Helsings. With each film, the group of Drac, his friends (all voiced by original voice actor Adam Sandler’s friends), Mavis, and Johnny expands just a little more, offering new chances for hilarity, but also opportunities to explore what sets everything off in the first place. Why did Drac create Hotel Transylvania and what is it that Johnny represented when he stopped there? These questions seemed to be resolved with the credits in 2012, but, 10 years later, screenwriters Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo, and Tartakovsky found a way to bring everything back around so that resolution finally comes. Amid the expected jokes as Johnny smoothly adjusts to monsterhood while Drac struggles at everything human-related, the beating heart at the center is quite powerful and remains that thing to be focused upon.
Why should you focus on the narrative thematic core? Because the narrative catalyst (Van Helsing’s ray), given any thought, makes zero sense. Since no timeline is given, one must presume that Helsing built the ray during his time as a monster hunter. As depicted in Summer Vacation, Helsing had one mission: eradicate monsters. That he would go through the trouble of building a device to turn monsters human and humans into monsters makes little sense. (Unless, of course, that’s how he created those fish servants to do the bidding of Ericka, but that creates an entirely *different* rabbit hole of monsterdom that would make the films far darker than the wholesome “monsters are people, too” idea that flows throughout the films.) I have no problem with Helsing having built the ray. I have no problem with Helsing having sought after the tools to build it nor that he would have the means to track down replacement parts. I do take issue with having it at all and the script, which finds ways to explain quite a few things via exposition, seems to skip over why he had this in the first place. To spend so much time streamlining the quest to switch themselves back without even a hand-wave as to why the ray is there in the first place, well…there’s only so much suspension of disbelief I can offer, even in a film like this.
If you’re coming to Transformania hoping for the same silliness that accompanied prior releases, you’re going to walk away happy. For all the pain the characters experience, it’s kept surprisingly light so that the younger audience members don’t notice it. Seeing as audiences who were five with the first film are now 15, I applaud the film for growing up, too. For exploring what it means to move on and how that can hurt, but can also be ok. That change can be uncomfortable, even, to a degree, undesirable, yet also healthy and encouraged. It’s good to know when to say goodbye to a version of yourself you no longer need to be or, in the case of the monsters themselves, knowing that who you are is the best version of yourself. So while the adolescent humor, and, therefore, the ways in which Transformania makes its better jokes, remains, there’s still something for older audiences and not just the parents.
While I much prefer Summer Vacation to Transformania, this final story from directors Derek Drymon (CatDog) and Jennifer Kluska (DC Super Hero Girls) is a lovely way to say goodbye. It’s equal parts funny and sweet, while allowing itself to explore the characters, showing them as the complex individuals that they are. Not to mention that they found a way to end this series in a way that feels complete, while allowing for the possibility for return. This isn’t a copout in the slightest, but a recognition that only stories end. All other things carry on. So carry on we shall. So long, Drac Pack, and thanks for all the laughs.
Available on Prime Video January 14th, 2022.
For more information, head to Sony Pictures’s official Hotel Transylvania: Transformania website.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.