The Addams Family Review

Arriving with the attitude that, well, there always has to be something new playing in theaters, The Addams Family ends up feeling like filler. That is, of course, the 2019 animated film The Addams Family, not entirely to be confused with the 1991 film of the same name or its 1993 sequel Addams Family Values. “Not entirely”, though, are the operative words to consider, because some aspects of this animated film are more indebted to Barry Sonnenfeld’s delightfully deadpan live-action comedies than they are the Charles Addams New Yorker cartoons that first introduced the world to this murderous family next door. No matter what the inspiration, this new Addams Family has the unmistakable, unavoidable whiff of cinematic leftovers.

We first meet Gomez Addams (voiced by Oscar Isaac) and his bride-to-be Morticia (Charlize Theron) as they prepare to get married in a predictably gruesome fashion. But their wedding is beset upon by torch-wielding villagers who drive them out to the “horrible, corrupt” locale of…New Jersey. (Har, har. State logo, per the film: “What are you looking at?” Ho, ho.) Once there, the Addams make their home at a recently abandoned asylum for the criminally insane, eventually becoming parents to Wednesday and Pugsley. After the brief prologue, the film shifts forward 13 years (of course) to what appears to be the present day. In the main action, Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) prepares to perform a bar mitzvah-like ritual of manhood, Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) becomes curious about the world surrounding their fog-shrouded home, and a reality-show host (Alison Janney) tries in vain to force a makeover on the Addams abode.

If you’re wondering where exactly the wheels fall off in the new Addams Family, it’s right around the phrase “reality-show host”. A good deal of the first 15 or so minutes of The Addams Family is familiar without being too stodgy; the script, credited to Matt Lieberman, is full of punny wordplay and physical humor that amplifies the quirks of the twisted Addams brood and how they go about traditional family relationships in the exact opposite way that “normal” families do. And then the pesky plot kicks in, all but grinding things to a halt. For one reason or another, each of the subplots — which all feel like plotlines more apt for a small-screen take on this creepy, ooky family — fall flat. 

Pugsley’s quest to complete a challenging manly task with swords is awfully reminiscent of the mamushka from the 1991 film, wherein Gomez and Fester (here voiced by Nick Kroll) indulge in a traditional, violent dance. Wednesday’s curiosity about the real world, represented largely by an inquisitive teenage girl with goth tendencies (Elsie Fisher from Eighth Grade), feels only slightly removed from the generic desire to explore the world beyond home expressed by heroines in Disney movies like The Little Mermaid. And the stuff with Janney, giving her all, is best left ignored because of how little thought is provided her character’s sunny but malevolent machinations.

The casting, largely, is on point even if it seems to encourage comparisons to the previous actors. The characters themselves are mostly visually inspired by the work of Charles Addams. But with Isaac and Theron especially, it’s hard not to imagine them being directed to do their very best version of Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston from the 90s-era feature films (where Huston looked a fair bit like the animated progenitor, though Julia did not). Isaac is a lot of fun to listen to, at least. Neither Moretz nor Wolfhard have that much to do; the only odd delight of Wednesday’s subplot is that her new friend is, like Fisher’s character in Eighth Grade, constantly vlogging and live-streaming herself. (The key difference, of course, is that her character here never has a crisis of conscience about doing so.)

Directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan last worked on the very un-family-friendly 2016 animated film Sausage Party. While The Addams Family does have plenty of slapstick-y humor to keep little kids engaged, there’s a lot of verbal byplay here — often reflected in Gomez and Morticia’s romantic banter, as well as by Kroll’s oddball performance, which calls to mind his Oh, Hello character Gil Faizon — that heavily implies a film that would much rather be for adults only. Of course, that’s not how this film can work, stacked as it is with a pablum-esque moral about being yourself and embracing your unique qualities. But it means the humor is often at war with itself.

Some elements of The Addams Family are charming enough to suggest that these characters stand the test of time. But too much of the new animated film — which, all things considered, doesn’t look nearly impressive enough to watch on a big screen compared to a streaming service in a few months’ time — is so heavily inspired by its predecessors that you’re better off watching them instead. Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron in a new movie together seems unbeatable, but when they’re following in Raul Julia’s and Anjelica Huston’s footsteps, they and this film can’t help but lag behind.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10

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About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.