I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA: TRANSFORMANIA
Rated PG, 94 minutes.
Available Friday to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.
When Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation came out, it felt like an excellent way to wrap up the animated monster narrative. Its climatic DJ battle produced good vibrations, united enemies as friends, and put lots of love in the air. It was sweet.
But now, like Toy Story 4, we have a new conclusion in the kid-friendly series. And also like Toy Story 4, it brings everyone (mostly) back to explore similar themes that barely take us anywhere fresh or unique. While one wishes it would tackle more real topics (like maybe human character Johnny’s fear of not living long enough to keep up with his vampiric family’s growth), Hotel Transylvania: Transformania (try getting your kids to say that without getting tongue-tied) remains a silly creep-fest that produces some good laughs.
This marks the first movie in the franchise not to be directed by Genndy Tartakovsky (who’s only credited here as a co-writer). It’s also the first film not to feature Adam Sandler’s deliciously entertaining voice as Count Dracula and Kevin James as Frankenstein. (Soundalikes Brian Hull and Brad Abrell take over for reasons unknown.) A lot of value is lost in their absence, but the main reason Transformania dips is mostly due to its lackluster story.
It has the framework to produce the giggles from front to back: Johnny (voiced by Andy Samberg) worries that he’ll never live up to what Drac expects from someone married to his daughter (Selena Gomez). That’s when Johnny’s attention is tractor-beamed into one of Van Helsing’s latest inventions: a device that transforms a human into a monster, or a monster into a human. So, get ready for Johnny to turn into a big-toothed dragon creature and Drac into a pasty, balding man with a dad bod. (“It’s like Freaky Friday but on a Tuesday.”)
So, about 15 minutes in, the humor picks up momentum. What each of the monster characters morphs into is admittedly funny even if a bit cheap. (David Spade’s Invisible Man becomes a completely nude, Larry Fine-like dude, and that lit up the Internet.)
Despite the jokes, the story feels more of the same. Characters seem to be relearning lessons when there’s a golden opportunity to go beyond the obvious. So, why not shake it up by asking some genuine questions about mortality? (Hey, even Twilight did it.) Instead, the storytellers spoon-feed you some low-hanging fruit.
Compared to its predecessors, Transformania feels like a lazy straight-to-video journey. It’s easily the weakest entry in the series, but it’s also harmless. You can’t ignore how it makes you smile. (My son laughed out loud a few times and stayed locked in, so it earns points for that.)