The Addams Family (2019)
Think your family is weird? Think again.
Initially created by cartoonist Charles Addams for a comic strip in The New Yorker magazine in the late ’30s, the eccentrically macabre Addams Family have permeated through entertainment for decades. Having appeared in TV shows, feature films and video games, the most well-known incarnations of the motley crew have been the ABC television series that ran from 1964 to ’66, and director Barry Sonnenfeld’s films The Addams Family (1991) and its sequel, Addams Family Values (1993). I guess you can say something about the hair-raising family stuck. Perhaps it’s the fact that this off-color clan couldn’t quite understand how their ghoulish ways were seen as odd by the rest of the world. Maybe it’s the old ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ proverb, or the way that the property urged those who felt like outcasts to embrace what made them different instead of running from it.
Seeing as children love creepy crawlies, monsters and all things icky and sticky (coz what kid doesn’t enjoy playing with slime?), The Addams Family feels custom made for entertaining the young’uns while simultaneously showing them that it’s okay to be different. Sony’s animated Hotel Transylvania series, however, has become this generation’s very own spooky symbols of individuality, the aforementioned monster-centric franchise beating the Addams to it (well, for today’s youth anyway). But being the era of re-boots and re-hashes, it makes sense that the frightening fam-bam would return to the big screen, even if the new film doesn’t do anything fresh or exciting with the twisted bunch.
Co-directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, but lacking the cheeky energy that made their Sausage Party (2016) such a surprise hit, The Addams Family opens quite strongly with a prologue that sees Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and his wickedly beloved, Morticia (Charlize Theron), along with the rest of the grizzly ghouls, chased out of their turf by an angry mob on the night of their wedding. Shunned for their morbid ways, Gomez moans and groan that they need somewhere new to call their ‘horrible’ home, so they move to New Jersey (where creator Charles Addams is from). There, they find a haunted abandoned asylum atop a cloudy mountain that’s creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky — it also comes with an escaped mental patient Lurch (voiced by director Conrad Vernon), who’s instantly recruited to be their butler.
Time passes, and the gothic couple makes the mansion their home, where their kids — their pale-faced bowling-pin looking daughter Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and explosives-expert younger son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) — cause all sorts of manic mischief. You see, the latter is preparing for an upcoming rite of passage dance thingy (dubbed the Mazurka) that every Addams must pass once they’re of age, while the former gets a taste of the outside world beyond her foggy abode when a Pennywise-type balloon floats into the misty mountains. In the meantime, we find out that a squeaky-clean reality TV show host/ homemaking guru named Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) has built a picture-perfect community she’s called ‘Assimilation’ right below the Addams’ decrepit manor, which she’s planning to unveil on the final episode of her show, Design Intervention. Problem is, once the smoke clears and Margaux and the members of her Stepford-esque estate get a look at the Addams’ ghastly homestead, they get creeped out, Margaux afraid that it will scare potential buyers away. Thus, the telly star eventually hatches a plan to drive them out of town. On top of all this, the extended Addams family members are preparing on visiting the unblemished borough on the same day as Margaux’s big finale to celebrate Pugsley’s Mazurka.
Sadly, this Addams re-vamp doesn’t do anything overly exciting with the material, the screenplay by Matt Lieberman, The Christmas Chronicles (2018), and Pamela Pettler, Corpse Bride (2005) — with story credit going to Lieberman, director Vernon, and Erica Rivinoja, Trolls (2016) — lacking the charm or ingenuity of what’s come earlier, filmmakers using bits and pieces of other movies, then sewing them together like a Frankenstein’s monster to re-tell the tale of a not-so-perfect family just looking for a place to belong. Pugsley isn’t good at swordplay, which he needs to ace his Mazurka (he’s more of an explosives guy), while Wednesday befriends Margaux’s ignored rebellious daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher), urging her to become her own person — we’ve seen both these storylines before. Heck, no finger-clicking melody can save the movie from its foreseeable climax, where everyone will learn the error of their ways and start to accept differences instead of coming at them with a pitchfork.
Sure, some of the gags work, including a sequence where Wednesday re-animates a bunch of dead frogs in her middle-school science class, and a bit that sees the hulking Lurch (who’s really a sensitive soul here) vacuum the house in reverse, spreading dust over the furniture as opposed to removing it. Others, however, kinda go over the line, even for a PG-rated film. There’s a scene where Morticia contacts her dead folks via a Ouija board (no parent wants to explain what a séance is right after watching a family film), and another that sees the severed animated hand that’s called Thing appear to have a foot fetish. Even the character of Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll), Gomez’s balled-headed brother, is depicted as some kind of deranged but lovable (?) predator, one who’s seen streaking in front of a bunch of townsfolk, which is played for laughs.
Voice-work is okay for a middle-of-the-road movie of this ilk. Oscar Isaac, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), churns out some standard Eastern European accent as the Addams patriarch Gomez, struggling to match Adam Sandler’s fun-loving take as Count Dracula from the superior Hotel Transylvania films. Bette Midler, Hocus Pocus (1993), isn’t bad as the batty Grandmama, whilst Jenifer Lewis, The Princess and the Frog (2009), is also decent as Great Auntie Sloom, Grandmama’s daunting dwarfish sister. Chloë Grace Moretz, The 5th Wave (2016), stands out as the monotone Wednesday — on a side note, I dug the character’s design, chiefly the braided noose pigtails — while rapper Snoop Dogg, Turbo (2013), steals all of his scenes as the famous furball Cousin It, or Itt, as he’s been re-named here.
If there’s anything to really recommend in The Addams Family ’19, it’s the new song by Christina Aguilera ‘Haunted House,’ which plays in the film’s opening and closing credits, but you can check that one out on Spotify. At the end of the day, while these characters may look like Charles Addams’ original toons, their latest film fails to give them the quirks or personality that made these munsters so memorable.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Mr. Movie