Serious film scholars may beg to differ, but it is the fervent contention of this critic that the Hotel Transylvania series peaked with the third instalment, although this fourth entry in the successful animated franchise certainly isn’t the worst. It’s the first film in the series I didn’t see in the cinema; having skipped an October 2021 release date due to the pandemic, Transformania was sold off to Amazon for a reported deal worth $100 million; with the first three films pulling well over a billion dollars worldwide, it smacks of a fire-sale by Sony, keen to get some kind of cash return on the value of a rapidly diminishing asset.
The other significant chance here is that a driving force behind these jolly cartoons, Adam Sandler, has departed the central role of hotel-owner Dracula, taking with him pal Kevin James as Frankenstein’s monster, but leaving behind other members of the Sandler Clan, notably David Spade and even Steve Buscemi, whose association with Sandler goes back to 1998’s The Wedding Singer. Those immersed in the Kremlinology of Adam Sandler friendship groups may read significance into these fissures, but for better or worse, Hotel Transylvania 4 still feels cut from the same cloth as the first three films.
The previous film’s MVP Kathryn Hahn returns as Ericka Van Helsing, together with her monster-hunting father, now part of the Hotel family; people and Gothic creatures are now living in harmony. Dracula (now Brian Hull) is ready to pass the hotel ownership to daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and son-in law Johnny (Andy Samberg), but gets cold feet and changes his mind abruptly. Frustrated, Johnny uses a ray-gun designed by Van Helsing that turns him into a monster and Dracula into a human, and the two take a trip to South America to find a rare stone that can help them bond and reverse the transformation…
While not reaching the precious slapstick heights of Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska’s film is bright and vigorous enough to pass muster; there’s an amusing musical sequence set to DJ Casper’s still potent dance anthem Cha Cha Slide, and the best set of ideas comes from Erika’s repurposing of her grandfather’s monster-hunting inventions to save the monsters themselves. There’s also some amusement to be had from the way that the Mummy, werewolf and others have to deal with being turned into humans, and Johnny and Dracula’s jungle trip allows for the usual brand of cross-generational interplay. The franchise may well end here, but in a cold, virus-ridden January, Hotel Transylvania 4 should be a cheap and cheerful baby-sitter to keep unruly kids just-about-engaged for 90mins.
Hotel Transylvania 4 is out now on Amazon Prime.