Synopsis – An animated version of Charles Addams’ series of cartoons about a peculiar, ghoulish family.
My Take – I think members of the past millennium can agree that The Addams Family has always been a series that flew under the radar of pop culture, never quite reaching the heights that it should rightfully have. Originating as a New Yorker cartoon in 1938, American cartoonist Charles Addams’ creation has been the inspiration for a hit 1960s sitcom, two modestly successful Barry Sonnenfeld directed films, a fun two season lasting 90s Cartoon Network animated series, and a musical.
Hence, like every other studio out there currently, it is not surprising to see MGM also take a shot at 90s nostalgia, with this property with the hopes of earning themselves a money machine in lines of the Hotel Transylvania series.
With a fantastic cast added to its roster and director reigns helmed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan (Sausage Party), this animated film clearly aimed to return spooky Addams traditions to all of its dormant animated glory.
While the film features droll character designs, emphasizing the family members’ comically disproportionate bodies and deadpan reactions especially when, say, Wednesday is sending her dolls to the guillotine or Pugsley is randomly hurling explosives around the house. The overall results are, however, quite hit and miss.
Running less than 90 minutes, the film is a modest affair clearly aimed at younger viewers, and has plenty of genuinely funny gags and jokes, but when the real commitment isn’t behind them, the humor tends to be on the forgettable side regardless of delivery.
Even the central conflict is swept aside to a baffling degree in favor of the same old lessons on family, traditions, and being yourself. It doesn’t make for a great film, but it also doesn’t make for a terrible one. Rather it’s another average family film that plays it safe despite its claims to edginess.
The story follows Gomez (voiced by Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (voiced by Charlize Theron), who after being interrupted by yelling villagers with torches during their wedding ceremony, find themselves settling in an abandoned, haunted asylum with bleeding walls and numerous chalk outlines of bodies in New Jersey, all in the hopes of raising a family together in a place they can call home.
Thirteen years later, Gomez, Morticia, Thing, and Lurch (voiced by Conrad Vernon), the asylum inmate they had gleefully hit on the road, have settled in comfortably away from all troubles, and have also been joined by their two children, Wednesday (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (voiced by Finn Wolfhard). However, the two siblings have been dealing with the troubles of their own.
Wednesday, a growing teenager, has begun to find their routine tedious, and yearns to learn about the world outside the fanged gates of their home, while Pugsley has been buckling under Gomez’s pressure to perform well in the upcoming Mazurka, a family ceremony in which, as Gomez’s brother Fester (voiced by Nick Kroll) calmly puts it, Gomez had excelled years ago.
Meanwhile, in the suburban town below the Addams’s mansion, another problem is brewing in the form of TV personality and home-renovation expert Margaux (voiced by Allison Janney), who is determined to resort to any means necessary to sell the homes in the community she designed. If all the homes sell, she’ll secure high ratings on her show and remain culturally relevant, but soon she realizes with the discovery of the weird family that everything she has worked for can be ruined.
Naturally, the family doesn’t exactly fit in with the cheerfully conformist mindset the town of Assimilation embraces. Nevertheless, the characters remain a testament to the imagination of their creator that the family have remained remarkably true to their roots over the years.
They’re a morbid bunch who have things back to front and they like everything monstrous, deathly, and scary, and shun anything that is pleasant and cheerful. But they’re also nice people, yes ghouls and monsters, but at heart and, in their eccentric way, have always been used to celebrate diversity and to remind viewers that normal comes in many shades and variations. And the animation shows them quite well in various shades and forms.
The film does shine in the little things, like the blink-and-you-miss-them details that will bring smiles to fans of the TV show. For example how Morticia uses human ashes for her eye shadow, and Wednesday’s pigtails are braided into tiny nooses.
The dialogue is packed with dark puns, and the endlessly creepy atmosphere is utterly charming. The scene where Wednesday goes all Dr. Frankenstein on a classroom’s worth of about-to-be-dissected frogs is excellently morbid and funny.
However, it is the story where this latest adaption falls short. The film just doesn’t try in constructing a complex narrative as things are quite simplistic and the story chugs along with the coal fire of a series of silly sub plots. It’s understandable that the filmmakers are trying to target children with this film but by doing so they dilute the risqué nature of the source material.
The attempts at social commentary, like in most animated films that do this, fall completely flat, and even get annoying during the treacly moments. Here, Suburban America is foreign to the Addams Family as the Addams Family is to them, but the lessons the film is sharing about judgment and compassion are quite familiar. That’s basically what kids’ films are these days, right?
Teaching young viewers that discriminating against other people is wrong is a well-known missive at this point, and although the film does that with a bit more spookiness than most other children’s films, it seems confused on how to handle the inevitable clash, touching on several routes without exploring them.
Is it a commentary of how conformity can go both ways, with Morticia and Gomez displaying some pretty rigid expectations for their children as well? How online communities can exacerbate the spread of vicious rumors and misinformation? How easily privacy can be violated?
The jokes come fast and fluidly, making this an undemanding watch but also one that renders decent fan service for those who grew up watching these charmingly supernatural folks. Directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan previously made the fabulously original Sausage Party and it seems like a desire to remain faithful to the minutiae of the Addams franchise has blunted their imaginations.
The voice cast does their best to liven up the proceedings. Oscar Isaac brings a good zaniness to Gomez, while Charlize Theron supplies the right amount of withering disdain. While Allison Janney, Finn Wolfhard, Bette Midler and Elsie Fisher offer enough fun to their characters, it Chloë Grace Moretz and Nick Kroll who offer the biggest laughs with their delightful characters. On the whole, ‘The Addams Family’ is a visually pleasing yet bland adaption let down by its ordinary story.
Rated – PG
Run Time – 86 minutes