The Hotel Transylvania franchise has done quite a bit with its premise in the space of almost a decade. As three sequels, several shorts, and an animated series have shown, the Drac Pack hasn’t lost step with the families who have developed a fondness for the animated zaniness the brand has come to represent. Sadly, there comes a time when the powers that be need to decide whether to leave the party while there’s still some goodwill, or to press on in the name of keeping things going. Being the fourth film in its series, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania might seem like it’s opting to push its luck, especially in a world where third instalments are risky enough.
It’s an assumption that is disproven through the work of directors Jennifer Kluska and Derek Drymon, as well as previous director/Hotel Transylvania shepherd Genndy Tartakovsky.
So how does one end the story of immortal hotelier Count Dracula (Brian Hull) and his lovably undying devotion to his business and family? Retirement, of course! But just as the vampire plans to hand over the reins of his historically monster-friendly resort to the next generation, a chain of misunderstandings, insecurities, and mishaps turn Drac and his friends (Brad Abrell, Steve Buschemi, Keegan-Michael Key, and David Spade) into humans. What’s worse, his ever-loving/constantly spacey son-in-law (Andy Samberg) has now become a monster; turning the tables that were first set up in the 2012 original.
It almost feels like too easy of a concept to execute as a conclusion to the Hotel Transylvania series, yet the fact that this storyline was reserved for a big finale is actually surprising – even more so when you backtrack through the previous two sequels. What could have been made as a simple first sequel has been developed into a fitting close to this animated family comedy and its core themes.
The Hotel Transylvania saga draws to a conclusion, but with surprisingly bittersweet results.
Throughout the run of Hotel Transylvania, Count Dracula’s love for his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) has been tempered with his tolerant acceptance of her aforementioned son-in-law, the human/walking disaster Johnny. That is made readily apparent in the various conflicts that have fueled Hotel Transylvania adventures of the past. Opting for an approach that both enlarges that that conflict, while also setting some very personal stakes,Transformania forces Drac and Johnny to take a road trip in order to restore their true selves, while really digging to the heart of why they’ve always been at odds in the first place.
Gendy Tartakovsky’s handle on the world of Hotel Transylvania, in collaboration with Transformania co-writers Amos Vernon and Nunzio Randazzo, helps keep this third follow-up flying in the air. While there has been a peaceful co-existence between the most important men in Mavis’ life, there’s always been room to finally clear the air once and for all. That sort of thing doesn’t always happen in animated franchises, but it certainly sums up the final entry’s approach to the long-running antics.
The comfort in exploring the universe of Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is reflected in that major decision, which sees every other aspect fall into line. Familiarity has its home, as audiences have spent almost a decade with these characters and their adventures. All this latest adventure does is take that foundation and build a surprisingly bittersweet close that provides everyone a new angle from which they can successfully work.
Every character in the Drac Pack gets a new spin, with the next generation being given a new purpose.
Being a story about passing the torch, we really get to see Mavis and Johnny come into their own in this new story. The angle itself isn’t particularly new, as it’s been done through sequels to live-action and animated family franchises alike. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania isn’t happy with merely playing that beat the same way everyone else has, though, as these younger figures get to show initiative, and in turn the characters are given personal agency.
Animated family comedies do tend to have fair amounts of slapstick and shenanigans, which is where extending this latest crisis to Dracula’s friends comes into play. Seeing the men of the Drac Pack deal with their respective human transformations provides the perfect doorway to poking around burning questions, while presenting new problems simultaneously. David Spade’s invisible man Griffin exemplifies both halves of that dichotomy, thanks to his newfound visibility, and discovery all of the perils that come with it.
The same Looney Tunes-style humor that’s been found in every other corner of Hotel Transylvania’s DNA is still very much present in Transformania. Sight gags, freak outs, and crazy characters cram every inch of the frame when the situation allows. The major difference is that this last chapter takes a little more time to really reinforce the messages it’s been working with since the beginning. As a result, everyone gets to grow up a little more before the final curtain is drawn.
Growing up and moving on is the focus of Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, and the movie takes that message to heart.
Some sequels find themselves inventing new problems and/or allowing their established protagonists to act out of character in the name of progressing a story. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania has successfully avoided that rut by letting Count Dracula, Mavis, Johnny, and everyone else you know and love be themselves. The conflicts that arise come from notions embedded in who these monsters and humans are and how they see themselves, and it works better that way.
Right from the start, this has always been a story of Drac being able to let Mavis grow up and become the woman she’s meant to become. Moving on was always the goal, and Hotel Transylvania’s franchise finale embodies that message in every possible way. It just happens to be a good thing that a series can arrive at such a conclusion without forgetting to throw in jokes involving a gigantic hamster and zombie bellhops.
As with any animated family franchise, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is going to be a good source of laughter and tears. Children who grew up with Drac and his family are not only saying goodbye to a piece of their childhood, they might even be doing so while introducing it to families of their own. No matter your age or circumstance, if you’ve been with the Drac Pack since the beginning, the final Hotel Transylvania is an essential check-in that bids everyone a fast, fond, and funny farewell.