The fourth installment of the animated series about a vampire who manages a monstrous hotel, “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” is the brightest, funniest, nicest, and all-around finest one yet. Movies, according to Roger Ebert, are “empathy machines.” A nice example is “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania.” The fight between monsters and humans to appreciate one other is brought to a head when they trade places thanks to a changing ray that operates for a while and then breaks, trapping them so that they can find an alternative just in the right time for a happy ending.
Drac (Brian Hull, who replaces Adam Sandler) is a devout single father who has never been happy with his human son-in-law Johnny (Andy Samberg). There’s more to it than the distinction between monsters and people. Drac is reserved, apprehensive, and averse to change by nature, whereas Johnny is exuberant, adventurous, and impetuous. As the film begins, the hotel is celebrating its 125th anniversary, and Drag is preparing to hand over the property to his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez, who is also the film’s producer and star), and Johnny. Johnny’s passionate response and intentions for change, though, cause him to rethink. Drac tells Johnny he’ll grant them the hotel, but he doesn’t. The transfer of ownership to a human is prohibited by “real estate law.” Johnny doesn’t want to let Mavis down, so he goes to the underground facility of mad scientist Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), who just occurs to have a transforming ray. He carefully tests it on a real guinea pig first. He teaches it on Johnny, who is happy with his newly dragon-like beast self, after he is pleased with the monster-fied outcomes.
When the ray unintentionally touches Drac, though, the consequences aren’t as pleasant. There are no special abilities! There are no fangs! Hairline receding! Worst of all, I have a dad bod! What a terrible experience! The magical monster-creating crystal breaks, yet the only way to restore their former shapes is to locate another, which requires tracking a monster-ific GPS to a South American rainforest. As a result, it’s a road movie, with two vastly distinct people attempting to work together along the route, both from their own selves and from one others.
Since the characters are far beyond their most basic understanding of who they are, this is part of what has made it so entertaining. Drac transforms from a furious rage about not being capable of flying or utilizing mind control to joy at experiencing something that we take for granted—sunlight. He may be a vampire, but when he comes face to face with another type of bloodsucker—mosquitos—he is terrified.
The details of the artwork are extremely precise, flexible, and lively. The way the pictures interact with the action and speech adds emphasis and cunning twists that will keep you coming back for more. The characters have a lively plasticity to them that is exaggerated enough to reap the benefits of the animator’s limitless creative mind while remaining clearly compatible with the inner reality of the world in which we feel right at home after three other films, shorts, and video games with these characters. The facial expressions and emotions are amusing, but they are always in service of the tale and character
The animators are having a lot of fun with the numerous changes. It’s a lot of pleasure to witness the human side of the other monsters after three films. And it literally means “look.” Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade) was little more than a pair of spectacles before his transformation; his companions are taken aback when they discover he’d been naked the entire time. Griffin’s baldness is an equally unsettling revelation. Griffin’s baldness is an equally unpleasant surprise. We also learn what has been inside the thousands-of-years-old covering around Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key) and what Wayne the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi) looks like without his fur (though still pretty hairy). The unfinished Frankenstein (Brad Abrell) turns out to be a selfie-obsessed enthusiast. At least, that’s what he believes. Eunice (Fran Drescher), his wife, isn’t convinced.
In the Hulu series “Only Murders in the Building,” Gomez’s sardonic, subtle approach was the perfect contrast for Steve Martin and Martin Short. It works well here as the voice of sanity amidst the craziness, and she adds enough warmth to express her love for both Johnny and Drac. She and Ericka Van Helsing (Kathryn Hahn) enlist the help of the other spouses to track down the monster/humans and human/monsters (on a zeppelin!) in order to recover the crystal before the time runs out.
“Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” blends monster abilities lost and found (love those countless wolf babies), pure delightful absurdity, and surprisingly meaningful insights into family connections in an Indiana Jones-style quest. “Would do business again,” I wrote on Yelp for this motel.
Currently available on Amazon Prime.