'The Addams Family'
(PG / 107 mins)
Overview: Get ready to snap your fingers! The first family of Halloween, 'The Addams Family', is back on the big screen in the first animated comedy about the kookiest family on the block.
Funny, outlandish, and completely iconic, the Addams Family redefines what it means to be a good neighbor.
Verdict: Though the iconic theme and peculiar characters which comprise 'The Addams Family' are largely unknown to the current generation of children and those youngest viewers among us, co-directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (Sausage Party) have seized the opportunity to relaunch, reboot, and reinvent these legendary characters all over again for today’s audiences.
With The Addams Family, we have a big-budget animated take on material that dates back to Charles Addams’ cartoons from the 1940s and the legendary ABC television series he helped create in 1964. As the theme song tells us, this Addams clan are “mysterious and spooky and altogether ooky,” traits which appear to be largely absent in Tiernan and Vernon’s 2019 presentation.
In terms of Halloween-season frights and scares, the film is about as intense as a trip through one of those seasonal pop-up Spirit Halloween Superstores. All the right stuff is there, you can pretty much find everything you’re looking for, but the presentation just kind of seems like it’s thrown together to make a profit.
The film works through its steps quickly, especially in getting us to present-day. We first meet husband and wife, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) Addams, as they relocate to New Jersey after they have been run out of their town by an intolerant community.
In their getaway, their car, driven by their pet disembodied sentient hand, strikes a massive man on a dark, desolate road. Clad in an insane asylum straitjacket, the Addams take him in and then inhabit an abandoned, dilapidated mental hospital.
That man, now known as Lurch, works as the Addams’ 8-foot-tall butler who is also a virtuoso piano player to boot. As we cut to 13 years later, the Addams’ teenage daughter Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and 13-year-old son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) have been largely isolated from the outside world. Wednesday is curious what lies beyond the family’s gnashing metallic gate which lines the family home.
Pugsley is preparing for a rite of passage from adolescence into “manhood” - a family ritual known as “the Mazurka.” Soon, they will be joined by Gomez’s obnoxious brother, Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) and their mother, Grandmama (Bette Midler), in town for Pugsley’s big day.
As Pugsley attempts to learn the complicated sword-bearing dance which accompanies the ritual, Wednesday’s curiosity leads her outside the gate. She makes a friend, Parker (Elsie Fisher), a bullied junior high school girl who finds Wednesday standing up to girls who treat her terribly.
Wednesday essentially enrolls herself into school and both girls show defiance to their mothers, in particular, in a rather clever look at conformity and what it means to try and fit in.
And there’s a lot more than just those things happening in The Addams Family. Something of a growing trend with new animated enterprises, the film actually feels like it could be laying the groundwork for an episodic series on either cable television or a streaming platform somewhere. Parker’s mother, home makeover television star Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), has designed a brightly-colored, pastel-laden community named Assimilation.
She discovers, to her horror, Assimilation sits underneath the black, colorless, foreboding Addams estate. Janney is inspired in her vocal work and gives this over-the-top, narcissistic character her all, even when the screenplay saddles her with a poorly conceived twist the film does not quite know what to do with.
While I cannot say I didn’t find lots of anecdotal laughs and chuckles along the way, The Addams Family is haphazardly constructed and a bit of a mess overall. Because we move so briskly through scene after scene, nothing really resonates beyond a fleeting moment or two.
Some jokes land quite well, but others miss the mark or, perhaps worst of all, pass by so quickly we can’t care long enough to consider what we have just seen.
With that said, these characters, especially guided by a terrific Moretz vocal performance, could be appealing to families watching in a theater or sitting on the couch at home. The themes of acceptance, meeting people where they are in life, and recognizing that our differences are things to celebrate and not condemn, are important messages for all of us to hear.
And yet, in a movie that rushes through so many things, the elements of the story which matter most are, ironically, hammered home so many times they start to lose their impact.
Completely inoffensive and pleasant enough, 'The Addams Family' is a serviceable animated comedy with a lot of energy but not a lot of great moments to show for it.
Like that Halloween Superstore, it fills a need, but as soon as you get what you paid for, you’ll leave it in the past, forget about it, and move on to something new.