3 out of 5 stars.
The target audience for MGM’s animated, family-friendly version of “The Addams Family” is likely too young to be familiar with the creepy crowd’s origins, which started as a comic by Charles Addams in the late 1930s, is most remembered for the sitcom it spawned in the 1960s, and cropped up again in the early 1990s in a couple of films that are now cult favorites. This new film version, which is directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, both respects these origins while succumbing to a rather uninspired contemporary storyline, with mixed results.
The film opens with Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) Addams’ wedding, which is broken up when the local townspeople chase them away, believing the funny looking clan to be monsters. Gomez and Morticia retreat to the far away land of New Jersey, where they move into an abandoned asylum on a hill along with the bodiless hand Thing and their new acquaintance, the hulking asylum escapee Lurch (voiced by co-director Vernon). A montage of family portraits brings us through a decade of time to the present day. Gomez and Morticia now have two children, Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard), who engage in the family’s macabre activities but have also never left their house on the hill; Wednesday in particular is curious about what else is outside their gates. As the entire Addams family gathers to observe Pugsley’s Mazurka, a coming-of-age ceremony for the Addams family men, a superficial reality TV show host named Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), who has renovated the town beneath the asylum, seeks to get rid of the Addams’, who are ruining her perfect aesthetic.
“The Addams Family” does have some fun gags and a bit of a dark sense of humor regarding the family’s horrifying habits, but you constantly get the sense that the film could have taken it further. Some moments are genuinely clever, but others just feel like they are weird for the sake of being weird. And the film isn’t subtle at all about its overarching message of being yourself and embracing others’ differences. Margaux’s cookie cutter town is literally named “Assimilation,” while a group of colorfully-dressed preteens (including Margaux’s daughter Parker—voiced by Elsie Fisher—who eventually befriends Wednesday) sing about how great it is to be like everyone else. It’s neither a bad nor a surprising direction for this movie to take, but it also isn’t inspired, which is a shame considering how quirky the subjects of the film are.
A lot of the film’s non-goth humor revolves around everyone always being on social media or attached to their phones, which gets really tired really quick. And while much of the animation isn’t particularly memorable, the character designs for the Addams’ are fun takes on the characters that respect their original design while being, uh, original. The voice actors are all wonderfully cast, with the stand out being Moretz’s Wednesday. But Wednesday’s character goes in an interesting direction in this film, one that the movie doesn’t do a great job addressing. She’s interested in the outside world, in going to school, in wearing colorful clothes, but while the film treats it as rebellion, she behaves more like she is merely engaging in a social experiment. She straddles both these worlds without really seeming to connect to either, which makes it a bit hard to believe that Wednesday would suddenly want to leave home and wear pink. Another great character who pulls in a lot of the laughs is Nick Kroll’s Uncle Fester, while Halloween queen Bette Midler has a small role as Gomez’s mother and Snoop Dogg voices the nonsensical Cousin Itt.
Regardless of its flaws, “The Addams Family” makes for a diverting 90 minutes, especially in the midst of the Halloween season. When the film closed with a sing-a-long of the TV series’ iconic theme song, the majority of the audience at my screening sang and snapped along, proving both the longevity and popularity of the franchise. Sadly, I think this movie may be one of the series’ less memorable entries.
Runtime: 87 minutes. Rated PG.