Released: 5th December
Seen: 23rd November (Advance Screening)
In 1938 Charles Addams created a cartoon about a strange family for the New Yorker. It was a satirical take on the modern family that ran for 150 single-panel cartoons and gained a following. Enough of a following that in 1964 a TV series was greenlit and that series, though it only lasted for two seasons, would be responsible for giving every member of this family their names and set the tone that people would come to expect from these characters. The series would continue to be adapted into many forms from cartoons to new live-action series to the two 90s Addams Family movies everyone loves (Don’t deny it) and even a stage musical. Now it’s a big bold animated movie, another in the recent trend of “Franchises that refuse to die” and like a lot of films in that trend, you don’t need to see this one.
The Addams Family acts as a prequel, where Gomez (Oscar Issac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) have moved into their new home after running away from another roving band of people with pitchforks and torches. For a while their life seems happy, they now have a safe home where they can raise Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) and Wednesday (Chloe Grave Moretz) and even have room for Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) to live with them. All is going well until an evil homemaker maned Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) tries to makeover the nearby town of Assimilation but realises that the view of the Addams house will ruin the property values and so she is on a warpath to try and get the Addams clan to leave. While all this is going on, Pugsley is trying to prepare for his Marzuka (which is like a Bar Mitzvah only with more swordplay) and Wednesday is making friends with Margaux’s daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher) which is leading her to dress in brighter colours which is only throwing more stress on the family.
Visually the film is a delight, taking the original designs from the Charles Addams cartoons and translating them into 3D works of art. They’re so glorious exaggerated and every visual of them just works. The Addams themselves stand out so much from the ‘normal’ people of Assimilation that it helps sell the outsider element of the characters. They’re also voiced spectacularly, every member of the Addams clan is perfectly cast and delivers with gusto. Sure, it’s almost inarguable that the ultimate cast is a blend of the 1964 TV series and the 1991 movie, but I like this cast a lot. They know how to deliver some great deadpan lines and when they’re given jokes that feel like they belong with the Addams family, it works.
The problem is that there are jokes in here that feel less like “Jokes one would associate with the Addams Family” and more like “generic 2010 animated comedy jokes” and they are very different. There are several pop culture references that just never feel quite right for the Addams, they always just seemed to be so separate from pop culture that having them reference it feels odd (OK I may have giggled at the joke about a killer clown being attached to the red balloon but that’s it). The social satire that is clearly trying to be here, which you should’ve guessed would be part of this movie as soon as the towns name of Assimilation was mentioned, just never rises to the level it could because we need to have a big action set piece ending and that just doesn’t fit the material. Big action set pieces just don’t work with this family, they always feel wrong because they’re too extravagant and The Addams are literally the exact opposite of that.
It doesn’t help that the villain of the movie just isn’t that interesting. Maybe we were spoiled by the iconic Debbie Jellinsky from The Addams Family Values but a pushy homemaker just doesn’t cut it. She’s nowhere near over the top enough to make it work and while I am a proud Allison Janney fan, there’s just nothing memorable or interesting about this character to make it work so she’s left trying to make something memorable that can’t be. It also means that the intended social message about how it’s OK to be different never lands properly because her character just isn’t interesting enough to make it land. It’s a fun visual design but… I’m sorry, it just didn’t work for me.
There are some things that I did like, even though they might go against what I think this property needs. For example, Cousin Itt being voiced by Snoop Dogg is the best/dumbest stunt casting ever and having Cousin Itt turning up to the house while a Snoop Dogg song plays is the kind of meta-joke I’m OK with. Some of the jokes got a good chuckle and I genuinely love that they end the film by recreating the 1964 TV series opening, theme tune included, Sitting in a mostly full cinema while a bunch of people snapped their fingers in perfect time is one of the more fun moments I’ve had in a cinema this year because we all embraced that moment of nostalgia. The catch is, that’s all this film is running on. It’s not adding anything interesting and it’s not meeting the highs of those that came before it. It’s certainly not the worst thing that’s ever been done with the property (look up Addams Family Reunion sometime… that’s a horror show and a half and not in the good way) but it’s not the best either. It tries, it really tries but maybe it just gets bogged down in trying to set things up when, by now, we know these characters well enough that it should be OK to just let them have a random adventure on their own.
The Addams Family isn’t great, but it’s not awful either. You can probably take your kids and use this as a springboard to get them into some of the most beloved characters to ever be created. You won’t spend the entire movie tearing your hair out, but I doubt we’ll be talking about this one in two years… which is a shame because that’s when the sequel’s meant to be coming out.
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