TUCSON, Ariz. — Show me a popular animated family franchise, and I'll show you the sequel that drives it into the ground.
The wacky forest adventure "Hotel Transylvania: Transformania" is the Waterloo for Sony's zany monster series.
The harmless, reasonably fun movie has most of the characters who succeeded over the past decade. But like a middle-aged band that starts to lose its members as it starts to tour the casino circuit, the prime star has departed.
In the role of Dracula, Brian Hull replaces Adam Sandler, who played a part in the first three films. Hull delivers such an uncanny impression that Sandler may be nervous about him swiping future voice acting roles away from him.
The plot this time around is something out of the Looney Tunes playbook: Johnny (Andy Samberg), Drac's annoying human son-in-law, gets zapped by a "monsterfication ray" that turns him into a dragon. The only way to revert him to normal is to head off on a video game-like quest into the jungle to find a magical crystal.
While the animation is as solid as ever, the script is as weak as the cobwebs in Drac's castle.
Even without Sandler, the voice cast is stacked. Selena Gomez, Jim Gaffigan, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Fran Drescher, and Kegan Michael-Key all do time here.
There aren't enough serviceable one-liners to go around, though. The stakes seem distractingly low, and few of the compelling issues of family unity, abandonment, and acceptance from the past films show up this time around.
While slick and entertaining at a basic level, the film becomes a slog because there is little plot momentum or compelling humor. Few jokes are calibrated to register with both children and adults, with much of the humor consisting of the lowest-hanging fruit, with 1980s Saturday morning cartoon-level sight gags. It's as though the movie's brain trust reached its creative capacity after coming up with the word "Transformania."
This weak supposed finale to the "Hotel Transylvania" franchise creaks like a vampire's coffin aching for the final nail. It seems Sandler got out at the right time.
RATING: 2 stars out of 4.