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The Addams Family (2019)
In Theaters: 10/11/2019
By: Valerie Kalfrin
The Addams Family (2019)
Home, spooky home

The Addams Family reboots the satirically spooky family last seen in live-action form in the early 1990s. Although not as kooky as longtime fans of the Addamses might want, it’s ooky enough in parts to endear youngsters to the family’s amusingly macabre humor.

The Addams Family starts promisingly, with the wedding of Morticia (Charlize Theron, Long Shot) and Gomez (Oscar Isaac, Annihilation) interrupted by a torch-wielding mob. Seeking someplace to be themselves in peace, Gomez suggests they relocate to “someplace horrible. Someplace corrupt. Someplace no one in their right mind would be caught dead in.” That winds up being New Jersey (birthplace of Charles Addams, who created the Addamses in 1930s New Yorker cartoons).

Thirteen years later, the Addams family is blissfully isolated in their hilltop mansion when development encroaches—specifically, the cookie-cutter community of Assimilation. Assimilation has a singing group that warbles about how great it is to be like everyone else, something that doesn’t quite jibe with its pink sparkly streets, but never mind. The Addamses decide to meet the pastel-clad neighbors, running afoul of the community’s designer, TV host Margaux Needler (Allison Janney, TV’s Mom).

Directed by Greg Tiernan (the Thomas & Friends series) and Conrad Vernon (who also co-directed Sausage Party with Tiernan), The Addams Family has an animation style that emulates the family’s original single-panel cartoons. Each Addams has an exaggerated body shape and attire, like the baggy coat of Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll, TV’s Big Mouth) and Morticia’s tentacle-hem dress. (She doesn’t walk as much as glide.)

The voice cast also is entertaining. Isaac and Theron capably pick up the baton of Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston, pitch-perfect as the live-action Gomez and Morticia in 1991’s The Addams Family and 1993’s Addams Family Values. In addition to Kroll, there’s Chloe Grace Moretz (Suspira) as droll daughter Wednesday; Finn Wolfhard (It: Chapter Two) as son Pugsley; Bette Midler (TV’s The Politician) as Grandmama; and rapper Snoop Dogg (Dolemite Is My Name) as the unintelligible Cousin Itt.

But the plot overall doesn’t do them justice. The film has amusing sight gags and one-off moments, like butler Lurch (co-director Vernon) “dusting” the house by reversing the vacuum. (Lurch also is a musical whiz on the organ and the piano.) But the story skitters off in so many directions, it feels like the disembodied hand Thing on a tear. There’s no focus on one cohesive thread or arc to pull it all together in an emotionally satisfying way. (Viewers bringing younger children also may notice a few bits that raise questions or eyebrows.)

The screenplay by Matt Lieberman (The Christmas Chronicles) and Pamela Pettler (9, Monster House) also ignores some of the Addams family’s ethos. The family typically is cheerfully oblivious as to how they appear. Here, Morticia worries about Wednesday’s safety in the outside world (a la Hotel Transylvania) once Wednesday connects with Margaux’s goth-leaning daughter, Parker (Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade). Wednesday still gets some of the best lines, but Pugsley’s storyline about doing a proper dance at a coming-of-age ceremony hits the theme of “it’s OK to be different” more subtly. One wishes the rest of the film followed that lead.