Monsters Are People, Too
'Hotel Transylvania: Tranformania' debuts on Prime Video. Don't miss it.
Now Streaming: In my manifesto, aka my about page, I made it clear: "This newsletter will be a horror-free zone." (Also: please note the title of this newsletter.) Yet, here I am, writing about monsters. What a hypocrite!
The monsters in Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, though, are anything but monstrous or scary. The concept, created by Todd Durham, pictures monsters who visit Hotel Transylvania, designed to accommodate monsters so they can take a break from human civilization. Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack), who made his feature directorial debut on the first film in 2012, told Den of Geek in 2018: "I don’t want to scare anybody. I just want to make them laugh with these iconic characters," referring to one of the franchise's inspirations, Universal's Classic Monsters from the 1930s, i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and so forth.
Two sequels followed, in 2015 and 2018, as well as three short films and a prequel series, made for small screens. The fourth and final installment, with Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska taking over the helm as directors, was heading for movie theaters in 2021 before delaying releases several times, until finally distributor Sony Pictures Releasing decided to sell the film to Amazon Studios. So, the film's premiere on the company's streaming service, Prime Video, makes perfect sense.
Lest anyone think that Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is somehow a lesser film because it is now arriving directly on a streaming service: it's a very good film.
Formerly the protagonist, Dracula (now voiced by Brian Hull, stepping into the role originated by Adam Sandler) is now a supporting character in the story by Genndy Tartakovsky, scripted by Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo and Tartakovsky. The lead is taken by Dracula's daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her new husband Jonathan (Andy Samberg), who are first in line to inherit the Hotel Transylvania as soon as Dracula can work up the nerve to announce that he will be beginning "a new chapter" in his life with Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), the granddaughter of longtime vampire hunter Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan).
After 150 years, Dracula is ready to move on, but he hesitates because of his larger reservations about Jonathan, since he is a human (and also incredibly goofy and awkward, which is a secondary concern that any father would have about his daughter marrying such a person). As it happens, Van Helsing, who has transformed from an antagonist into an ally and has a laboratory in the hotel's basement, has cooked up a new formula that can transform humans into monsters, and vice versa.
More than willing to volunteer, Jonathan accepts and is delighted when he is transformed into a big, gangly monster. Unfortunately, Dracula is not so delighted when he is transformed from a monster into a -- gasp! -- human, and the transformative formula soon runs amuck, thanks to the unintentional actions of Blobby (Tartakovsky), leading to comically human versions of monsters like Frankenstein (Brad Abell), Wayne (Steve Buscemi), Griffin (David Spade), and Murray (Keegan-Michael Key).
As you might have surmised from my complete ignorance about Wayne, Griffin, and Murray and their respective antecedents, I've not yet seen the first three installments in the franchise, though the fourth film has certainly stirred me to want to see all three. Hotel Transvania: Transformania is an utter delight, filled to the brim with a plethora of visual gags, snappy dialogue, jokes, slapstick, gorgeous and fleshed-out backgrounds, marvelous animation, and full-bodied characters who act and move and talk like their characters, which is also a credit to the voice actions giving well-rounded performances.
Really, I wish I could have seen this film on a big screen in order to fully appreciate all the wonders of the visual beauty on display, as well as to enjoy the shared laughter of an all-ages audience. Essential viewing. [Prime Video]