Monsterfication Ray

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is the unceremonious end of the monster franchise. Not in a bad way, but so much was lost between Summer Vacation and Transformania. Despite the late 2021 release date, the movie was still dumped on Amazon Prime Video. Genndy Tartakovsky always talked about leaving, but he finally let someone else direct while he co-wrote. Most surprising is the total lack of involvement from Adam Sandler. When he left Sony, his best buddy Kevin James and other family members went with him. So now the only returning cast members are the less loyal David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez. Keegan-Michael Key, Kathryn Hahn, Jim Gaffigan, Molly Shannon, Fran Drescher, and Asher Blinkoff. Brad Abrell is a professional voice actor who replaces James as Frank, but more interesting is who they got to replace Sandler as Drac.

Brian Hull is a popular YouTube impressionist who deserves way more attention. Although he had his heart set on Disney, I’m just glad he got such a big role. Even if it does sound like an extended impression. Transformania is back to basics with a slightly more interesting plot. Drac considers retirement, but backs out at the thought of giving the hotel to his goofy son-in-law. Johnny is important once again as he tries to fit in by becoming a monster. A much friendlier Abraham Van Helsing uses his “Monsterfication Ray” on Johnny to make him a dragon-like monster. Which will become permanent unless they travel to South America. Of course the funniest draw is seeing all the classic monsters in their human form. Drac gets hit by the ray and becomes an out of shape middle aged man.

Meanwhile, Frank becomes a tanned hunk, Wayne becomes a hairy guy, Murray becomes an elderly pharaoh, Blobby becomes jello, and Griffin becomes visible. I could do without the constant butt jokes, but I do like the continuity of Griffin having red hair. All their wives get involved in order to reverse the transformation. Mavis teams up with Erika, Eunice is unimpressed with Frank’s looks, and Wanda is stuck watching all the kids. Dennis and Winnie are mostly left hypnotized. Drac and Johnny have time to bond over their transformations until the truth comes out. Everyone comes together to set things right, but the finale still feels incomplete. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania could’ve left a bigger impact if most of the creative team stayed in tact.

Hotel Translyvania Transformania

Human Drac hikes with monster Johnny

Preceded by: Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Hunting for Love

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is exactly how it sounds. It’s the same hotel hijinks, but on the water. At this point director Genndy Tartakovsky was done with the series and desperately wanting to do an original film for Sony Animation. When that too was shelved, Tartakovsky ended up directing and writing anyway. Adam Sandler wasn’t given the same freedom as Hotel Transylvania 2, but he was just as dedicated as the rest of the growing cast. Including Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Keegan-Michael Key, Molly Shannon, Fran Drescher, Asher Blinkoff, Sadie Sandler, and Mel Brooks. By this point, the computer animation is even more exaggerated than it was before. Toilet humor is kept to a minimum this time around.

As the title suggests, Summer Vacation takes the monsters on vacation to a cruise called the Legacy. They get there on a Gremlin infested plane and travel to the Bermuda Triangle where the destination is Atlantis. Each monster has their own carefree subplot until they reach the lost city. The trip was Mavis’ idea to give her father a break from serving others. She spends time with her even more laidback husband Johnny and son Dennis. Dennis and Winnie hide their freakishly big puppy Tinkles who will confuse people that didn’t see the short Puppy!. Frank spends time with Eunice and has his hands replaced by claws at one point. The Invisible Man finds his Invisible Woman. Murray mostly tags along, but Wayne and Wanda are left out completely after a hilarious scene where they don’t know what to do with their alone time.

Vlad is part of the group, but this is still his son’s story. Drac zings for the second time with the mysterious human ship captain Ericka voiced by Kathryn Hahn. I know her all white look is supposed to contrast with Drac, but I just don’t like her design. Turns out Ericka is the great granddaughter of Dracula’s archenemy Abraham Van Helsing. She tries to kill him at first, but she eventually zings in return. Abraham is still alive in a disturbing steampunk body voiced by Jim Gaffigan. He’s willing to kill the monsters using a mind controlled Kraken. Of course it’s a singing Kraken voiced by Joe Jonas, and the only way to defeat him is with the “Macarena.” Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is when you kind of learn to accept the franchise if you haven’t already.

Hotel Translyvania 3 Summer Vacation

Monsters on deck

Preceded by: Hotel Transylvania 2 & Followed by: Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

Nutsy Cuckoo

Hotel Transylvania 2 is a spooktacular sequel. Like so many animated sequels before it, Sony Animation went deeper, rather than bigger. Genndy Tartakovsky returns to direct even though he intended to make a Popeye movie. Adam Sandler having more creative control is a mixed bag. Most of the sequel is funnier and the Fifth Harmony song “I’m in Love with the Monster” is worth it. Hotel Transylvania 2 is still pretty juvenile, but spending more time on monster/human relations does make the sequel a slight improvement. Drac is now cool with humans staying at his hotel. Although she’s over a hundred, Mavis marrying Johnny and having a baby is surprisingly grown up for their characters. Hotel Transylvania 2 is mostly about Drac trying to turn his grandson Dennis into a vampire.

Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Molly Shannon, and Fran Drescher return alongside Sandler. Keegan-Michael Key replaces CeeLo Green as the mummy since the latter made some controversial tweets. Quasimodo doesn’t return, but Jon Lovitz does voice the Phantom of the Opera. Dennis is voiced by child voice actor Asher Blinkoff. Sandler’s daughter Sadie voices Wayne and Wanda’s daughter Winnie who wants to zing with Dennis. New voice actors include Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman as Johnny’s parents who try to adjust to their monster side of the family. Mavis is overprotective of her son, but I enjoyed her experiencing the joys of being human on a trip to Johnny’s home.

Giving Drac, Frank, Wayne, Murray, and the Invisible Man a chance to turn Dennis into a monster. They’re also joined by Blobby who has an expanded role from the first movie. Unfortunately, monsters have become hilariously wimpy. Humans aren’t scared of them anymore, so they call in an old fashioned monster to help out. Though he’s mentioned throughout, Dracula’s father Vlad doesn’t appear until the last 30 minutes voiced by Mel Brooks. Vlad is dead and loving it, but he hasn’t accepted humans yet. Dennis doesn’t show any vampire traits until Winnie’s life is threatened by Vlad’s meanier bat servant Bela. He’s a last minute antagonist, but at least everyone has time to shine. Hotel Transylvania 2 is the best of both worlds.

Hotel Transylvania 2

Drac comforts Mavis, Johnny, and Dennis

Preceded by: Hotel Transylvania & Followed by: Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

I Don’t Say, Blah Blah Blah

Hotel Transylvania brings all of the classic monsters together under one roof. Sony Animation is still very hit or miss for me. Since I wasn’t a big fan of Adam Sandler comedies, my brother and I decided to ignore the monster comedy when it first came out. Hotel Transylvania has Sandler’s signature touch and all his usual collaborators, but there is more effort than I was expecting. It was the directorial debut of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky. The computer animation is cartoony and fast-paced just like his traditional animation. Hotel Transylvania refers to a hotel for monsters built by Count Dracula himself. Monsters of all shapes and sizes attend the hotel. Including witches, gremlins, zombies, skeletons, ghosts, bigfoot, the fly, a hydra, and various other monsters with very stylized designs.

The classic Universal monsters are Drac’s closest friends. Adam Sandler is almost unrecognizable with an exaggerated Transylvanian accent. Drac has all the usual vampire strengths and weaknesses, but he can also levitate objects. Kevin James is a Frankenstein nicknamed Frank who always falls apart. Fran Drescher is his annoying bride Eunice. Steve Buscemi is a werewolf named Wayne in constant stress due to his many kids. Molly Shannon is his pregnant wife Wanda. David Spade is the Invisible Man who only has a pair of visible glasses. He’s not part of Sandler’s group, but CeeLo Green voices the excitable mummy Murray. Despite all the farting, pee jokes, and cringy pop songs, Hotel Transylvania does have heart.

Drac is an overprotective father to his 118 year old daughter Mavis. Although Miley Cyrus was the original choice, Selena Gomez made more sense after finishing her Disney channel show Wizards of Waverly Place. Mavis longs for freedom, but Drac views humans as monsters after they killed his late wife Martha. The hotel is turned upside down when a human arrives for the first time ever. Andy Samberg is laid-back backpacker Johnny who zings with Mavis. Which is basically love at first sight in this universe. Drac hates Johnny at first, but he randomly warms up to him. Honestly, the movie is pretty aimless with monster gags and Jon Lovitz as a lame chief version of Quasimodo who wants to eat Johnny. Eventually the monsters are accepted by humans and Mavis is able to be with Johnny. Hotel Transylvania scares up a few laughs despite a few problems along the way.

Hotel Translyvania

Drac tries to hide Johnny

Followed by: Hotel Transylvania 2

Ghostly Grades

Casper’s Scare School is currently the last movie based on a Harvey Comics character. There was talk of a Hot Stuff movie, but nothing ever came of it. Although I was still young in 2006, I have no memory of Scare School airing on Cartoon Network. It was a TV movie that led to an animated series 3 years later. Somehow the computer animation gets worse with every Casper movie. Casper’s Haunted Christmas was animated, but it was similar in style to the previous direct-to-video live action films.

Scare School is stylized to the point of almost resembling the original comics. Casper has legs and the Ghostly Trio look totally different. I’m familiar with Casper’s new voice actor Devon Werkheiser since I watched Nickelodeon’s Ned’s Declassified, but I don’t think his voice fits the character. With the exception of Disney actress Christy Carlson Romano, most of the cast is made up of high profile voice actors. The only major celebrities are James Belushi and Bob Saget as a pair of forgettable two headed bad guys.

A somewhat softer Kibosh returns to send Casper to Scare School. A lame school for monsters other than ghosts. Casper befriends a zombie named Mantha and a mummy named Ra. He’s bullied by a vampire named Tatch who doesn’t like how friendly he is. Casper’s friendship with a human nearly leads to an uprising with the humans. I enjoy Casper’s spirited adventures, but Casper’s Scare School was enough to kill his long-running franchise.

Casper's Scare School

Kibosh scares Casper

Seasons Creepings

Casper’s Haunted Christmas is an oxymoron. Since the direct-to-video film is a Christmas special released on Halloween day. Casper: A Spirited Beginning and Casper Meets Wendy were poorly animated, but at least they had live action to fallback on. Casper’s Haunted Christmas makes the woefully misguided decision to be fully computer animated. Advertised as having “state of the art” animation, the movie is so poorly rendered you’d think it was a mockbuster. Somehow the humans look scarier than the ghosts.

Unlike the other movies, I didn’t watch Haunted Christmas when I was younger despite seeing trailers for it on VHS. I only knew there were songs from Randy Travis and a paid promotion with Baskin Robbins. This time Casper is voiced by Brendon Ryan Barrett from A Spirited Beginning. The Ghostly Trio do their usual scaring, but the villainous Kibosh and Snivel return to revoke their scare licenses unless Casper scares someone by Christmas. They arrive in a Christmas themed town where Casper befriends yet another girl that he has a crush on.

Holly Jollimore is fed up with her parent’s Christmas obsession. Holly thinks Casper is a living snowman and her parents obliviously think Stretch, Stinkie, and Fatso are actors. In order to make Casper scare someone, the Trio hire his lookalike cousin Spooky. Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost originates from Harvey Comics, but his New York girlfriend Poil is from the 90’s cartoon The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper. Between the case of mistaken identity and stealing Christmas, Casper’s Haunted Christmas does nothing original with the Friendly Ghost.

Casper's Haunted Christmas

Casper wishes everyone a Merry Christmas

Little Red

Casper Meets Wendy is the second best Casper movie. I have fond memories of watching it on the Disney Channel. I just wish it didn’t have the same low budget direct-to-video quality as Casper: A Spirited Beginning. Although I do think the CGI animation used on the ghosts and magical powers are a slight improvement. Casper Meets Wendy is better because it finally introduces Wendy the Good Little Witch. Unlike Casper, Wendy originated from Harvey Comics as his good-natured witch counterpart. Wendy was meant to appear in the 1995 film, but Christina Ricci doesn’t exactly fit the description.

Hilary Duff is so adorable it’s scary. At only 10 years old, Duff steals the show with her on-screen debut playing the Good Little Witch. Wendy has her classic all red witch costume, magic wand, broomstick, and trio of overprotective aunts. Although green in the comics, Wendy’s aunts are now named Gert, Gabby, and Fanny. Cathy Moriarty returns to play the new character alongside an unrecognizable Shelley Duvall and Teri Garr. I’m not sure how they manage to have such star power, but George Hamilton plays the eccentric warlock Desmond Spellman who wants to destroy Wendy.

Richard Moll and Vincent Schiavelli play his Pulp Fiction inspired goons Jules and Vincent. Pauly Shore returns in an equally annoying role as Desmond’s Oracle. Ben Stein has another cameo alongside Casper Van Dien who outright references Starship Troopers. Casper Meets Wendy is a lot more interesting since the conflict between ghosts and witches is true to the comics. Casper befriends Wendy and they try to unite their respective uncles and aunts. The Ghostly Trio: Stretch, Stinkie, and Fatso are their usual charming selfs, but I liked that they were paired up with the three witches. Casper Meets Wendy is a magical start to Hilary Duff’s career.

Casper Meets Wendy

Casper flies with Wendy

Preceded by: Casper: A Spirited Beginning & Followed by: Casper

A Spooky Start

Casper: A Spirited Beginning has aged badly. Casper was groundbreaking because of its early use of CGI for several major characters. It worked for a theatrical film, but going direct-to-video was a mistake. Half the budget meant terrible CGI animation that’s much worse than I remember. I do remember watching A Spirited Beginning when I was younger. I don’t think I hated it, but I know I didn’t like it as much as the first movie. Though it’s technically a prequel, the movies are only loosely tied together. Casper the half rendered ghost travels on a ghost train to scare school.

When he winds up lost in a live action town, Casper tries to make friends without scaring them. Ben Stein returns as his first scare. Along with a returning Rodney Dangerfield as the mayor. Other familiar actors include Brian Doyle-Murray as a foreman, Michael McKean as a crazy demolition expert, and Casper Van Dien for obvious reasons. The Ghostly Trio consisting of Stretch, Stinkie, and Fatso presently haunt the Applegate Mansion. The Trio attempt to teach Casper, but he’s just too friendly. The ghosts are pursued by James Earl Jones as the giant green villainous ghost king Kibosh.

He’s not from Harvey Comics, just like his sniveling assistant Snivel voiced by a very annoying Pauly Shore. A Spirited Beginning is very dated with several 90’s cliches. Brendon Ryan Barrett is the painfully generic Chris who loves the supernatural, is picked on by stock bullies, and befriends Casper. Steve Guttenberg is his workaholic father and Lori Loughlin is his extra supportive teacher/future mother. A plot to save a historic landmark is just not very interesting for the Friendly Ghost. Casper: A Spirited Beginning is an origin story that’s better left untold.

Casper A Spirited Beginning

Chris introduces Casper to Jennifer

Followed by: Casper Meets Wendy

The Friendly Ghost

Casper is the friendliest ghost story I’ve ever heard. The Friendly Ghost has been haunting every facet of media since 1939. Casper has appeared in children’s books, theatrical cartoons, TV shows, and his own series of Harvey Comics. Though he didn’t originate from the comics, Casper was just as popular as Richie Rich. So it only made sense for them to make a Casper movie one year after Richie Rich in 1995. Though the idea came from Steven Spielberg who produced the movie. He’s mostly responsible for all the surprise celebrity cameos from Ben Stein, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, Rodney Dangerfield, the Crypt Keeper, and even Dan Aykroyd as Ghostbuster Ray Stantz. I know it’s not the best adaptation, but Casper holds a special place in my heart since it was the most successful film the day I was born.

I’ve seen it many times on VHS, though it doesn’t make a lot of sense to release such a spooky flick on May 26th. Since it predates Toy Story by a few months, Casper is technically the first movie with a CGI animated main character. Casper the Friendly Ghost figuratively comes to life with his classic cartoon design and semi-translucent white body. Malachi Pearson is the friendliest voice they could’ve gotten. The CGI holds up fairly well for all the ghosts they had to work with. Like the cartoons & comics, Casper is bullied by his uncles the Ghostly Trio. The movie forever renames the characters Stretch, Stinkie, and Fatso. Stretch is the harsh leader, Stinkie has bad breath, and Fatso is the fat one. The rest of the cast is mostly original. Cathy Moriarty and Eric Idle play a pair of forgettable bumbling bad guys trying to get Casper and the trio out of the haunted Whipstaff Manor. Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman’s characters are at least named after Harvey Comics.

Dr. James Harvey is called to remove the ghosts along with his daughter Kat. Although she was originally set to play Wendy (more on her later), Ricci makes the most out of her first equally gothic role after Wednesday Addams. Casper just wants to make friends and Kat gradually warms up to him. Meanwhile, the Ghostly Trio promise to reunite James with his deceased wife. Although Casper has always been a ghost, the movie gets surprisingly dark and edgy. Aside from a lot of out of place swearing, Casper’s death is explored in heartbreaking detail. Casper’s unrequited love for Kat is actually hauntingly beautiful. Of course the climax is unbelievable when Casper discovers his father was an inventor who created a machine that can bring him back to life. It doesn’t go as planned, but Casper gets his wish to be a real boy played by Devon Sawa at Kat’s Halloween party. Thanks to Kat’s angel mother who is strangely dressed in red. Casper isn’t always friendly, but I’ll gladly revisit his haunted tale.

Casper

Casper and Kat go underground

Preceded by: Casper: A Spirited Beginning

โ‚ตHRI$TMA$

Richie Rich’s Christmas Wish is more cash in than Christmas spirit. Though I’m not sure Richie Rich was big enough to warrant a generic direct-to-video Christmas movie 4 years later. The only reason I know about it is because I constantly saw it advertised on my Iron Giant VHS tape. I always thought the title Richie Rich’s Christmas Wish was a tongue twister. Christmas Wish is a lazy copy of It’s a Wonderful Life, but I have to admire them sticking closer to the original Harvey Comics.

7th Heaven star David Gallagher is ok as Richie Rich. This time he actually wears the classic suit and bowtie. His dog Dollar has more to do and they manage to include Irona the robot maid. Albeit with a clunky design and even cruder CGI. Richie has his actual friends from the comics including Freckles, Pee Wee, and Gloria played by Michelle Trachtenberg in her second film role. Despite the movie’s overall lack of quality, the rest of the cast is surprisingly respectable. Keene Curtis is a much older Cadbury who was part of a rock band.

Clue co-stars Martin Mull and Lesley Ann Warren play Richie’s equally caring parents. Richard Riehle, Richard Fancy, Marla Maples, and Kathleen Freeman all appear, but Eugene Levy feels like the biggest name. He plays an even more eccentric Professor Keenbean who designs a borderline magic wishing machine that Richie uses to wish he was never born. You know the story, Richie’s very snobby cousin Reggie Van Dough takes over the town and Richie realizes he made a mistake. Richie Rich’s Christmas Wish is only for the most diehard Richie Rich fans.

Richie Rich's Christmas Wish

Richie Rich on a sleigh with Cadbury

Preceded by: Richie Rich