Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

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The Hotel Transylvania series is remarkably consistent. It certainly isn't top-tier animated fare, but it's funny and pleasant. Unlike a lot of franchises, the individual installments haven't gotten worse over time. They haven't gotten better, either. They've remained in the same general lane. All of this is to say that the fourth entry, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, will please viewers who enjoyed the other three. You get a nice story and some decent laughs, even if you won't be blown away by anything.

Taking a cue from Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, this new chapter takes the characters out of the titular establishment. Dracula (Brian Hull, replacing Adam Sandler, yet still sounding exactly like him) plans to retire and leave the hotel to his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and her doofus husband Jonathan (Andy Samberg). He gets cold feet at the last second, though, fretting that his son-in-law might change things too much. Jonathan thinks it's because he isn't a monster like everyone else, so he asks Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) for help.

Van Helsing has a device that turns people into monsters and vice versa. He turns Jonathan into a lizard-like creature, but accidentally makes Dracula a human. When the gizmo breaks, the two have to venture into the Amazon in search of a mystical crystal that will make it work again. Meanwhile, Drac's pals – Frankenstein (Brad Abrell), Wayne the wolfman (Steve Buscemi), and invisible man Griffin (David Spade) -- get turned into humans, too. They also head to the Amazon to help locate the crystal.

Flip-flopping the characters gives Hotel Transylvania: Transformania a fresh angle. The movie is often clever in how it views them as their opposites. Frankenstein, for example, turns into a hunk who can't stop admiring his newfound good looks. Dracula becomes pudgy and balding, and he panics when hit by sunlight until Jonathan tells him there's no need to fear it as a human. Gags like that elicit laughs, as do some of the physical hijinks. A bit in which Drac dives into a lake, not knowing it's full of piranha, is particularly funny. Transformania maintains the qualities that have made the series popular, but shakes them up just enough to prevent them from feeling stale.

Up to now, the overriding theme has been about feeling comfortable in one's own skin. That's certainly true here, although the movie focuses on it from Jonathan's point of view this time. Because he's the only pure human in a group of monsters, he feels inadequate. Trying to become a monster doesn't entirely work because it's not who he really is. The mission to find the crystal is really a mission to accept himself. Even if the idea is obvious, the sincerity of the movie's approach makes it work.

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania has bright, detailed animation, witty jokes, and good voice performances from the cast. The 98-minute running time breezes by. I'm not sure there are a whole lot of places left for the franchise to go. Turning the characters into bizarro versions of themselves feels like the last natural avenue to go down. If this does, in fact, turn out to be the last one, at least the series ends on a positive note. People who liked the three prior films won't be let down by this one's jovial nature and goofy humor.

out of four

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is rated PG for some action and rude humor including cartoon nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.