They’re cree-py and they’re koo-ky, mysterious and spoo-ky, they have a brand new mov-ie, the Ad-dams Fa-mi-ly; An an-im-at-ed fea-ture, so gather to a seat-yer, gonna-wan-na be-here, The Ad-dams Fa-mi-ly.
The Addams Family
Director: Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon
Release Date: October 11, 2019
What my interpretation of Vic Mizzy’s classic Addams Family theme song was meant to convey, if my artistry were too imperceptible for a casual read, was that America’s creepiest family (actually, in 2019, that might not be true) is back. Last seen on the big screen in 1993, with Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston taking up the lead roles of Gomez and Morticia Addams, the classic TV series has been reinterpreted for the 21st century, geared towards children and the parents that would accompany them.
With an animated (read: expensive) 87 minutes, there’s little time to waste. Chased from their homeland by an angry mob, Gomez and Morticia relocate to “somewhere no one in their right mind would be caught dead in!” Which happens to be New Jersey, USA. Sorry fellas. Settling into a creaky old asylum on a hill, the gloomy couple raise a family of the mischievous Pugsley and his sister, the dry and wise Wednesday.
The Addams Family features a truly all-star cast for its voice work, with Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron taking up the parental duties, and Finn Wolfhard and Chloe Grace Moretz taking Pugsley and Wednesday, respectively. Nick Kroll lends his vocals to the puttering Uncle Fester, and it’s a regular who’s-who of Hollywood hollers. The performances are appropriately droll where needed, with Pugsley and Gomez more on the manic side and Wednesday taking after her mother as an even-toned, bored adolescent. Until she catches a glimpse of the world beyond.
The chief struggle of The Addams Family is your standard kids morality-tale. Overlooking the appropriately-titled pop-up community of Assimilation, the Addams’ home is a blight on the cheery, artificial people and homes of the burgeoning suburb. Spearheaded by the aggressively-proper Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), whose reality-TV brand of mind-numbing conformity doesn’t quite mesh with the Addams’… eccentricities.
So with a wholesome and simple plot in which we learn, once again, to be ourselves, we should be freed up for the duration to sit back and let the laughs roll in. Right? Well, sort of. So much of the film’s comedy relies on the casual observations of the oddball family; Morticia springing the windows up to a stormy morning and remarking what a lovely day it looks to be, or Wednesday taking a public school bully’s nasty prank of a moldy sandwich and casually taking a bite. It becomes a little tiresome within the first five minutes, so you can imagine how a feature of that sort of redundancy plays out. The Addams Family never annoyed me with its humor, but so rarely amused me. I’ll say there were two genuine laughs on my part, a cold-hearted cynic, both coming from Uncle Fester’s bumbling ignorance and high threshold for pain.
It’s mostly a shame that this latest rendition of the Addams clan tries a little too hard to fit in with today’s standards, despite the strong anti-conformity stance it takes. We have heavy social media critique, and an incredibly upfront look at gentrification and the ways in which the “other” is ostracized. The Addams’ initial foray into the bright and cheery streets of Assimilation is met with sideways glances and fear by the posh and hip residents of the bland and phony settlement. Does The Addams Family, a children’s movie, dive deep into the minutia of displacement and racism? Certainly not. But the threads are there to be picked up.
No, the idea of implementing these ideals in a kids film isn’t a bad idea at all, but the overall structure of Family feels so familiar as to blend in with any other animated feel-good fest that the grim layers of dust and ghoulishness that made the ’90s films so good feel more like dressings.
Visually, the 2019 film keeps largely to Charles Addams’ original New Yorker comic strips, with the plump bodies and wire-thin arms of Gomez or Morticia’s pale and pencil-like figure evoking Edward Gorey or Tim Burton, himself no doubt a fan of the macabre family. The character models look good, and generally the animation, down to the dusty explosions from Pugsley’s dynamite-fueled experiments, feel like a major production.
The Addams Family is absolutely not a bad film. It is competently made, features a decently-faithful representation of a classic and iconic cast of beloved characters, and is largely without major setbacks. Which is why it’s a real shame that there just isn’t a lot of oomph to it. Maybe leaning in a little further to Gomez’s old-country traditions and their deadly connotations, or Pugsley’s mischief and the ways in which people can get hurt would add a little edge to the comedy and still keep things PG for the kiddies. The Addams crew should be weird and offputting, and we should love watching them all the more for it. For a film that looks to instill its audience with a sense of tolerance for those different from us, it asks its main characters to be a little too contained and ho-hum. It’s like sitting a zombie at a table, dressing him up nicely, and telling him to slurp the soup, not the brains!