Film

Review: Halloween Comes Early in a New, Animated The Addams Family

The first thing I noticed about this new iteration of The Addams Family is that the characters look a lot like the original iteration of the Charles Addams’ cartoon series about a creepy family that still manages to stick together when the outside world is against them.

Co-directed by Greg Tiernan (Sausage Party) and Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2, Monsters vs. Aliens), The Addams Family isn’t afraid to get dark and even inappropriate with its gallows humor (although still within the confines of a PG-rated movie). These family members aren’t just playing spook house; they are genuine death mongers for whom unpleasant and unsettling is the norm, and not a condition that needs to be eliminated from the (in)human experience.

The Addams Family

Image courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

The first thing you notice is that patriarch Gomex Addams (voiced by Oscar Isaac) and matriarch Morticia (Charlize Theron) are deeply in love; they care about each other feelings, even if these feelings involve misery. And that’s essentially the point: they support each other’s lifestyles unconditionally; there’s no judgement, and their marriage is strong and better for it. Their kids are maladjusted (perhaps by design). Eldest child Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) is your classic Goth girl, but she is the only family member who seems interested in what going on outside their iron gates; younger sibling Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) is meant to be in training for an ancient sword-wielding ceremony that marks his entry into manhood, but he’d rather play with his explosives, as kids are want to do.

As a television series, The Addams Family was always at its best when they interacted with “normal” people. Of course, in this day and age, defining anything as normal is a dangerous enterprise, but in the case of this film, it means the suburbia that lies at the base of the mountain where the Addams’ mansion sits, shrouded in a permanent fog that vanishes when the surrounding swampland is drained. The most influential resident is Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), who hosts a popular home-improvement show. She’s planning a special episode that will result in a large number of newly renovated homes all going on the market at once. When the Addam’s grotesque dwelling suddenly becomes visible, Margaux fears that her dreams of money and fame will be erased by plunging market value, so she sets out to besmirch the Addams’ good name and have the townspeople drive them out, much like what happened to the family in the old country. To make matters worse, the entire Addams’ clan is planning to come to town on the same day as Margaux’s special live episode, so things escalate quickly.

To make matters more interesting, Wednesday decides she wants to attend the local school (rather than be “cage schooled”), where she befriends Margaux’s angsty daughter Parker (Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher), and their lifestyles begin to rub off on each other, with Wednesday daring to add a splash of color to her black-and-white wardrobe and Parker going full-on Goth.

The story itself may not be particularly original, but the execution (pardon the pun) is exceptional, with a relentless barrage of jokes, visual gags, and slightly icky bits. For example, I’m fairly certain Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) is a bit of a pervert. We get a few fun vocal cameos by the like of SCTV vets Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short (as Morticia’s dead but still very communicative parents), Bette Midler as Gomez’s overbearing mother, and even Snoop Dogg as a hairy little monster named Cousin It. Some of the best jokes involve the butler of few words but a beast on the keyboards, Lurch (voiced by director Vernon), and a disembodied hand known as Thing, who gets to be considerably more mobile in animated form.

Naturally, the film builds to a showdown of sorts between the extended Addams Family and the townsfolk, but this being a family film, things find a way to work themselves out without nearly enough bloodshed for my tastes. Strangely enough, The Addams Family might be your best bet with the approaching Halloween season, in terms of truly capturing the holiday in all its gaudy glory. The movie is a great deal of fun, and finds the perfect balance of safe and edgy, which is not easy to do. There are even messages about inclusion and acceptance, giving these legendary outcasts actual relevance as well as entertainment value.

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