“They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky. They’re all together ooky, The Addams Family!” and with these opening lyrics to the 1960s classic television sitcom, viewers were perfectly set up to what they were going to experience over the following thirty minutes of that original show, which mostly involved “normal” people encountering the delightful weirdness of the Addams Family, and now, five decades later and after numerous adaptations of the characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams, we come to their first theatrical animated adventure — having already won audiences over with two live-action movies, starring Raul Julia and Angelica Huston — but has anything new been brought to the table?
How about an origin story? Most adaptations of the Addams Family pick up with the family fully formed, so why not explore a little backstory, which is what this version decided to do… kind of. The film opens with Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) finding their wedding being crashed by torch-wielding angry villagers, causing the two to flee the “Old County” to someplace where they can raise a family in peace, “Somewhere horrible, somewhere corrupt, somewhere that no one in their right mind would be caught dead in.” Cue a smash cut to a New Jersey road sign. That’s humour folks; nothing beats a cheap shot at New Jersey.
Luckily for them, they end up in the heavily wooded part of the state where they run into Lurch (Conrad Vernon) — quite literally, as Gomez hits him with their car — and discover that he is a straightjacket-wearing escaped mental patient from the hospital for the criminally insane. Doing the only “sane” thing, they hand the man their luggage and make him their butler.
This was a pretty good opening and the jokes, for the most part, worked rather well — stuff like Thing playing the song “Wild Thing” on the car radio being the one harbinger of tired jokes to come — and I wish the movie had spent a little more time within this unexplored aspect of the early Addams Family history. Sadly, that was not to be, instead, we get a painting montage that carries us through thirteen years to the present day and any ounce of originality is left far behind.
What follows is your standard Addams Family story, where their “weirdness” will cause strife within the local community, but then this standard plot has to share space with two other subplots which in themselves would have made far more interesting plots for a feature film. These two subplots consist of Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) struggling to be ready for his “Coming of Age” ceremony, and Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) becoming distant with her mother as she desires to explore the outside world.
Note: In this movie, we are told that Wednesday and Pugsley have never set foot off of the Addams family property, not even for a vacation, and they are completely unaware of the outside world, which is bad parenting even by Addams Family standards.
This leads to the one aspect of the movie I wish had been given more screen time, which would be Wednesday’s desire to experience Junior High, much to Morticia’s dismay. The two fight but Wednesday puts forth a good argument, “Mother, would you really wish to deprive me of the opportunity of tormenting children my own age?” In this subplot, we get Wednesday dealing with the school’s clique of “Mean Girls,” as well as a delightful scene of Wednesday in Biology class, where her reaction to being given a dead frog is to construct a Doctor Frankenstein assortment of equipment to bring the creature back to life. The stuff with Wednesday and her new best friend Parker (Elsie Fisher) are easily the best moments in the film and any time it cut back to Pugsley having to practice for his upcoming Mazurka I just groaned.
Unfortunately, neither Wednesday’s school life nor Pugsley’s upcoming manhood is the central plot of this particular Addams Family movie, instead, that honour goes to the planned community of “Assimilation” — yes, that’s the actual name of the town in this movie, which is an early clue that subtlety will not be on the menu here — a town that is being run by reality TV host Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), who turns out to be this film’s chief villain. It seems that the Addams Family’s spooky home could jeopardize the selling of the remaining fifty homes in Assimilation, and with the Addams refusing a free home renovation, Margaux is forced to use the power of social media to turn the residents of Assimilation against the Addams Family.
Note: Why Margaux Needler has a secret lair, where she can monitor all the homes in this planned community via the hidden cameras she installed, is never explained. Was she practicing for a future job as a Bond villain?
The overused and trite message of conformity is about as subtle as a ball-peen hammer to the forehead; the kids of Assimilation even sing a song with such lyrics as, “What’s so great about being yourself when you can be like everyone else? It’s easy to be happy if you have no choice.” Now, this message of encouraging individual expression and fighting conformity isn’t a bad one, but sadly, it’s handled in the tritest and most boring way possible. I can picture even five-year-old audience members rolling their eyes over the ham-fisted writing on display here.
- Lurch is found wearing a straightjacket from the “State Hospital for the Criminally Insane,” and he leads Gomez and Morticia up to the abandoned Asylum, which they decide to make their home, but if it had been abandoned for years, which the decrepit interior implies, what was Lurch still doing in the vicinity? Had he been wandering around in that straightjacket for a decade or more?
- Lurch’s choice of a musical instrument is changed from the harpsichord to a grand piano for some reason.
- The family lion is used as a garbage disposal in a gag that would be more fitting in an episode of The Flintstones.
- The classic schtick of Wednesday/Pugsley’s attempts at murdering each other is strangely expanded to include Pugsley trying to murder his father as well.
- The new design for Wednesday, which included hangman’s nooses for braids, I found to be particularly inspiring.
- In Kick Ass 2, Chloë Grace Moretz’s character Hit-Girl ended up in Junior High, and as in the case of this film, that subplot was worthy of its own movie as well.
- How could Margaux Needler be completely unaware of the existence of the Addams Family mansion? And I don’t buy the idea of the swamp’s perpetual fog as an excuse because anyone constructing a planned community would have been aware of an old insane asylum that overlooked your prospective community.
On the plus side, I did appreciate the filmmakers keeping the character designs of the Addams Family quite close to the original Charles Addams cartoons, and the overall look of the spooky house was excellent, I especially liked the fact that it wasn’t just an abandoned insane asylum, but a haunted one as well, and that it periodically screams “GET OUT” at people. In the area of voice casting, Chloë Grace Moretz and Finn Wolfhard did excellent work, while the performances of Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron I found to be rather underwhelming. One of my favourite elements of the Addams Family is in how deeply in love Gomez and Morticia are — they were even the first television couple to sleep in the same bed — and that passion is sadly absent here. This version of Addams Family would have been better served as an original Netflix movie or a Nickelodeon special, or maybe as a pilot for a new animated series, but it certainly didn’t warrant a theatrical release.
The Addams Family (2019)
Movie Rank - 6/10
As an animated feature, The Addams Family is a mostly harmless affair but there is a danger it could bore even the little ones, and though the art design for the film is rather nice the lack of originality in the story makes it a hard movie to recommend.