Was anyone actually expecting this movie to be any good?
In all honesty, I went in expecting a half-baked animated affair, much like the third movie. I’ve seen more than my share of animated films, thanks in no small part to some disposable income plus streaming, as likely have many parents at this point. There’s going to be a temptation to put this movie on to distract the kiddos for an hour and twenty minutes (it reads as 88, but the credits are long, so I’m estimating).
Don’t. Put on something else, anything else instead. Disney + is right there.
For those that aren’t aware, this dead horse of a franchise started in 2012, starring Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez, with a few other all-star talents of varying recognizability (Kevin James, David Spade, Fran Drescher, et al). That original film took the idea of Dracula running a hotel for monsters in part to be a helicopter parent over his quasi teenage daughter Mavis and did some cool stuff with it. The original film had some zany comedy, some smooth animation, and some actual pathos between the various monsters. The love story between Mavis and introduced human Johnny made since, and while the latter got a little annoying, a viewer could at least understand his appeal: he’s a likeable, fun loving guy who has an eclectic knowledge from traveling the world.
Sequels have watered the franchise down more and more. Anyone who saw the third film, which involved a cruise ship and a love interest for Dracula, knows that the franchise is probably running of ideas at this point. Tranformania here seems to embody that: they had a fun pun with the idea and clearly decided to build a plot around it. Dracula (now voiced by someone attempting an impersonation of Adam Sandler’s character, because even Sandler has bailed on the franchise at this point) wants to retire and build a new life with his love interest (don’t bother learning her name, beyond giving the group gear she has no purpose in this story). He wants to hand the hotel over to his daughter, Mavis (voiced by returning Selena Gomez), but Johnny (Andy Samberg) has somehow managed to become more obnoxious and immature, despite now being a father for several years and having had three films of growth at this point.
Dracula wisely realizes that Johnny is an immature child and unsurprisingly doesn’t want to hand his business over to a rampaging man-child that ignores his son, goes crazy upon hearing about a secret, and believes literally every lie that’s told to him (in case it wasn’t clear, I was done with Johnny in about five minutes, and he’s a major character in this film). Thus Dracula lies, telling Johnny that only a monster could inherit the hotel. Why he doesn’t just rip the Band-Aid off and tell this supposed father and husband to Mavis, a responsible adult, that his immature displays would result in no sane person wanting to give him a business is beyond me… oh wait, we need a plot.
Johnny approaches the live in mad scientist, Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan), who in turn provides him with a plot convenient ray that transforms the person zapped with it into a monster. Dracula, realizing that his lie is about to be uncovered, attempts to humanize Johnny, hits himself and then sort of several other monsters (because why not) and they all turn into humans right before the device breaks. Cue a journey with just Johnny and Dracula as they attempt to find a crystal to restore the device.
The plot feels contrived from the start. Again, it feels like they had the name pun and then wrote a film around matching that (also likely while someone was like “okay gang, we’re being paid to do the fourth in this franchise, and everybody knows there’s no good fourth-quels [save for maybe Shrek 4, but that’s just fan-fiction). They turn both Dracula and most of the named male monsters into humans (no girls though because… funny?). There is a vague attempt at getting something out of Dracula being human: he gets to experience bodily weakness and the sun.
But it’s mostly about awful, unfunny gags on beating up Dracula and others. The film utilizes what is admittedly really smooth and seamless animation to present almost constant slapstick comedy. None of it seems to really land, in no small part because the vast majority of it comes around Johnny, who is simply a bad character.
I honestly do not understand what the writers were thinking with Johnny. He behaves and acts like an idiotic child, believing most of what people tell him, plowing through whatever’s in his way, and generally being an irresponsible idiot. He almost literally runs over his child (who is completely sidelined in this film), and didn’t we have a whole plot about saving that kid? Mix that with Samberg doing some of his worst mugging and we have a complete mess of a character.
Not that the others are given much better material. All the jokes involving the monsters who have been transformed into humans are incredibly one note. Allow me to spoil them for you:
Frank is hot and obsessed with his looks.
Murray (the mummy) is old.
Griffin (the invisible man) was naked the whole time.
Wayne (the werewolf) is now unrecognizable to his children.
That’s it. They do nearly nothing else with any of those characters during their transformations. They learn nothing, show no need to react to their families or do anything, and they’re really just there so that Mavis and Drac-love-interest (I know her name; it doesn’t matter) can find out and go and save their incompetent men-children.
I honestly have never felt more for a character than I did for poor Mavis, who is constantly having to be the only adult in the room save for occasional help from Drac-love-interest. It does not help that a lot of the “gags” are that Wanda, the female werewolf is now overwhelmed by her children since they don’t acknowledge their dad. Hahaha forced gender stereotyping is hilarious.
I do want to emphasize this film’s good points. A few of the cast really are trying their best to embody their characters. It feels like David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, and to some extent Jim Gaffigan are all at least trying to do something with the material they’ve been given (admittedly my appreciation for Gomez may be because, again, they put too much on Mavis as a character).
The animation is incredibly smooth and fluid. It’s as fast-paced and zany as a lot of Looney Tunes cartoons, and I know that’s a lot of appeal to old school animation fans. They actually do some really cool stuff with the animation and scenes at a few points. There’s a bit where Mavis and Drac-love-interest have to fend off an animal that’s kind of clever and fun. And the final climax involving everyone working together to zap Johnny is actually kind of fun, even if it makes zero sense (the idea is that Mavis, who is holding a ray that turns monsters into humans, can’t go into the sun because she’s a vampire… she could literally zap herself, step to the side, use the ray on her husband, then zap herself back into a vampire).
Again, I don’t think anyone was going into this film expecting a masterpiece. I was expecting to at least be mildly entertained. I thought the previous film was mostly harmless and had a few fun moments. But between Johnny’s antics, holes in the plot, poor characterization, and a lack of living up to its potential, this may be one of the worst films I actually finished sitting through in some time.
The film is currently available for streaming for free on Amazon Prime released January 14th (yesterday as of the time of this review); do not waste your time with it and instead watch just about literally anything else.
2 that final scene and a few relatable characters are pretty much all that saves this from the bottom