In another sign of the distressing pandemic backslide for the film industry, Sony Pictures is currently exploring alternative distribution for its upcoming animated feature “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” Variety has learned from multiple sources with knowledge of the effort.
The fourth entry in the kid-friendly franchise, which has grossed more than $1.3 billion worldwide since 2012, was set to debut in theaters on Oct. 1. But the delta variant raises serious questions about the safety of children under 12 in public spaces, since there is no vaccine yet available for that age bracket and health experts say the highly contagious strain of COVID-19 is more virulent for younger people. The recent news that exhibitors are not planning to object to vaccine mandates for indoor events only further reduces the financial viability of any family movies currently set to play only in theaters.
That had been Sony’s plan for “Hotel Transylvania 4,” but the company has been forced to weigh several options, including selling the film to a streaming service or postponing its theatrical release to a later — and, one desperately hopes, safer — date. Sony has sold several animated features to Netflix amid the pandemic — including “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” “Wish Dragon” and, most recently, the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical “Vivo,” which debuted on Aug. 6. But Netflix had no comment with regard to “Hotel Transylvania 4.”
Other studios are facing similar tough choices for what to do with their family-based film slates, and everyone appears to be taking each movie on a case-by-case basis. Paramount is releasing the animated movie “Paw Patrol: The Movie,” based on its popular Nickelodeon series, simultaneously on Paramount Plus and in theaters on Aug. 20. But in July, the studio pulled its animation/live–action hybrid “Clifford the Big Red Dog” from a Sept. 17 theatrical-only release with no further news about when it will be available; the film was subsequently withdrawn from its gala premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Disney, meanwhile, has elected to put all its family films to date on its streaming service Disney Plus, either via Premium Access (like with “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Jungle Cruise”) or for free to all subscribers (like with Pixar’s “Soul” and “Luca”). The studio has set its next animated features, 20th Century’s “Ron’s Gone Wrong” and Disney Animation’s “Encanto” (also with music by Miranda), to open in theaters on Oct. 22 and Nov. 24, respectively. But to date, the studio has only publicly committed to exclusive theatrical releases for live-action tentpoles “Free Guy” (for Aug. 13) and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (for Sept. 3).
Billed as the “final chapter” of the “Hotel Transylvania” series, “Transformania” is directed by Derek Drymon and Jennifer Kluska from a script by Amos Vernon, Nunzio Randazzo and executive producer Genndy Tartakovsky, who originated the franchise. It’s the first film without stars Adam Sandler as Dracula and Kevin James as Frankenstein, who will instead be played respectively by Brian Hull and Brad Abrell. But the rest of the core cast is returning, including Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Kathryn Hahn, Jim Gaffigan, Molly Shannon, Keegan-Michael Key and Fran Drescher. Gomez is also executive producing, along with Michelle Murdocca.