Family friendly ghoulish family-ness.
After fleeing their homeland on their wedding night, Gomez Addams (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) immigrate to America — along with a disembodied hand named Thing — to start their family. Claiming an abandoned haunted asylum and adopting its lone occupant Lurch (Conrad Vernon), they raise their sociopath daughter Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and maniacal son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) in relative secrecy. One day when the fog clears to reveal a planned community where the swamps used to be, worlds will collide… in the most Addams way possible.
Cartoonist Charles Addams drew his first fiendish image in 1937 for what would collectively come to be called “The Addams Family,” back when the gruesome haunt-happy characters didn’t even have names before the development of the 1964 television series starring Carolyn Jones and John Astin. While modern audiences are more familiar with the PG-13 Barry Sonnenfeld films of the early 1990s, the initial trailers for this new CGI animated feature seem oddly tame in comparison… and perhaps inhumanly ugly. Are the traditional Addams’ punches being pulled for the sake of younger audiences, or are the best bits and delicious dread being saved for the feature itself?
Setting aside the Broadway musical revival less than a decade old, there have been numerous lackluster attempts to bring back The Addams Family to the “boo-tube,” but the eccentric clan doesn’t do well with a cheap production design. Fortunately, being animated with an exemplary voice cast delivers the macabre material promised, with a final product falling somewhere between the 1964 television show’s whimsy and the ghoulish 1990s features. Short of wishing it was another live-action film, seeing the caricatures of Charles Addams brought to life in all their beautiful nonconformity is a wonderful nightmare come true, even if slightly hamstrung for less-gothic audiences.
It was nice to see a plot that didn’t completely revolve around Fester this time around; how obsessed with Christopher Lloyd back then was director Sonnenfeld, anyway? There are plenty of obvious jabs at modern times herein as well: draining an actual swamp, persecuting immigrants, locals with pitchforks and torches, and an entire town actually named “Assimilation” complete with disturbing conformity song. The production design also hints at a love of all things Tim Burton, with the film’s setting resembling an animated reproduction of Edward Scissorhands. Unlike the Raul Julia/Angelica Huston features, this incarnation hints at murderous tendencies while stopping short of actually committing them on-screen; to quote Wednesday: “Does it matter?”
By leveraging the advantages of animation, viewers are treated to an abbreviated backstory re-introducing all the principle characters while also giving everyone something to do. Bette Midler elevates Grandma to a new level of importance rarely seen in her character, while Snoop Dogg as Cousin It works perfectly (too bad the totality of his scenes are already in the trailers). While the filmmaker message is heavy-handedly clear — like Tetris, you disappear when you fit in — pointing out superficiality is appropriately on display. Hey, if Hotel Transylvania can get at least a trilogy, there’s little stopping an Addams… other than box office receipts.
The Addams Family 2019 is rated PG for macabre and suggestive humor, some action, voyeurism and social media manipulation.
Three skull recommendation out of four
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