The Addams Family has cemented itself over the years as an iconic part of pop culture. The theme song is immediately recognizable even to those who haven’t watched the show from the ’60s (me). My main source of knowledge of the creepy, kooky, all together ooky family comes from Barry Sonnenfeld‘s 1991 film, which I watched for the first time just last night.
The latest iteration of The Addams Family, which comes to us in animated form from directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, has more than a few similarities with Sonnenfeld’s film, beyond the obvious. Both films lean heavily into the inherent humor of the unconventionally morbid household traditions, while remaining very light on story. As far as animated family entertainment goes, you can do a lot worse than the breezy, often clever, but narratively lesser The Addams Family.
The Addams Family begins with the marriage of Morticia (Charlize Theron) and Gomez Addams (Oscar Isaac, who would’ve made for a perfect Gomez in a live-action reboot), in an expectedly off-kilter ceremony involving limes and coconuts. When dissenting townspeople crash their moonlit wedding, Morticia and Gomez seal the deal and make a break for it, only to run over Lurch on their way out of town, to which they happily exclaim “we ran someone over!”
Flash forward a few years, and the family has grown to include the monotonously morbid Wednesday (Chloe Grace-Moretz) and the exceedingly extremely dangerous Pugsley (Finn Wolfward). Living in a gothic mansion (which used to be an asylum) on the hill outside of a quaint, colorful town (Edward Scissorhands, anyone?), the Addams family lives in relative anonymity. Once they begin to expose themselves more to the people around them, they meet a local shady TV personality, Margeaux Needler (Allison Janney), who sees the Addams’ estate as a roadblock in selling the houses in her neighborhood.
Perhaps due to extremely low expectations, The Addams Family proves far more enjoyable than its rather lackluster promotional material suggests. Very much capturing the spirit of the eccentric family’s history in film and television, the screenplay by Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler (The Corpse Bride, Monster House) finds plenty of clever ways to twist mundane family life into the morbid sensibilities of the Addams lifestyle.
It’s clear that the creators love and understand the characters they are playing with, making even the cringe-worthy puns easier on the ears. Although, whenever the jokes become tied to the vernacular of the millennial generation (“This party is gonna be lit”), they land with a resounding thud.
The visual gags are where the bigger laughs can be had, such as an offhand comment about Pugsley’s level of excitement, which plays as the horrifying version of the typical child’s “bouncing off the walls.” And adults will be amused by Thing’s computer search history. References to classic horror films abound, which will have zero impact on kids’ enjoyment, but they can be amusing to the adults who recognize visual cues from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Evil Dead, and IT.
Unfortunately, all the jokes and gags are at the expense of a story that lacks a considerable amount of emotional depth or character development, even for a kids movie. The plot takes a backseat to the comedy, which significantly lessens the level of engagement with our likably weird family.
Wednesday Addams gets perhaps the most development in her interactions with Margeaux’s daughter, Parker (Eighth Grade breakout star Elsie Fisher). Ideas of owning your identity and surveillance (which are as disconnected in the film as they sound in this sentence) are at the heart of the story, with Wednesday and Pugsley feeling pressured by their parents to conform to their ideal wishes.
From barrage of puns and jokes in the first act, it becomes clear that story of The Addams Family is not the prime focus. This may not be a problem for kids, but there are plenty of animated films out there that are more dramatically and thematically fulfilling for everyone. Even this year, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Toy Story 4 have much more on their minds beyond making audiences laugh.
The animation style is not quite up to par with the most recent Pixar and Dreamworks efforts, coming off rubbery and rigid. Budgetary constraints may play a hand in the level of detail on display here. The character design feels reminiscent of many Illumination projects, which aren’t always appealing to the eyes. But the inventiveness of the directors and writers make up for the off-putting animation, with enough clever visual ideas to distract. Wednesday’s noose-shaped pigtails are an inspired choice, for instance.
And the cast is absolutely stacked with A-list talent, with Martin Short, Bette Midler, and Catherine O’Hara also lending their voices. The voice acting definitely helps sell a lot of the jokes here. Although, some of the best lines are given to Nick Kroll’s Uncle Fester, whose nasally screeching tone seems out of a completely different movie.
The Addams Family has more than enough humor and spirit in its brisk 87 minute run-time to justify its existence. The story leaves much to be desired, and the animation isn’t quite up to the standards of most modern animated films. But if you’re a fan of the Addams or just need some quiet time in a theater with the kids, this’ll do just fine.
The Addams Family is rated PG, and it hits theaters this weekend.