Sunday, May 26, 2024

‘The Addams Family’ Plays It Mostly Safe

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The Addams Family is inspired by the cartoons of Charles Addams which were spun off into a live-action sitcom in the ’60s, which in turn inspired two successful live-action movies in the ’90s. Now in 2019, we have come full circle with an animated movie. Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan’s have hewed largely to the original one-panel cartoons; even going so far as keeping the original art style. The result is something more aimed at kids than the previous adaptations but no less ooky and spooky.

If anything Vernon and Tiernan, working off the script by Matt Liberman and Pamela Pettler, much like the other iterations, understand the intrinsic irony of the Addams Family. Meant to be a sort of assault on, at the time, modern suburbia and consumer culture, the Addams have persevered precisely because we seem to have made the suburbs our holy ground and consumerism our religion. Their rebuke is that appearance aside, they are a frighteningly functional family.

Gomez (Oscar Isaac), the happy go, lucky macabre patriarch, encourages his children in every activity, spends time with them, and can’t help but shower his wife Morticia (Charlize Theron) with both public and private affection. For her part, though dour and stoic, Morticia is every bit a parent as Gomez, and indeed their marriage is a healthy and active partnership that has very few rivals in modern storytelling. Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Pugsly (Finn Wolfhard) though fascinated with death and torture, are curious and accepting of the world around them even though the world oftentimes does no return the generosity.

The Addams Family starts with Gomez and Morticia being married only to have their wedding intruded upon by the townsfolk along with their pitchforks and torches. Morticia longs for a place far from the dangers of normal society. Gomez vows to find a disgusting and vile place with no redeeming qualities and so they land in New Jersey.  Upon arriving they discover a runaway from an asylum for the criminally insane, Lurch (Conrad Vernon) and in short order take him in as one of their own. Finding the old asylum which comes complete with a disgruntled spirit, the Addams set down roots and begin to raise a family.

Liberman and Pettler’s story mixes a blend of morbid puns and absurd gags and tops it off with a dash of sentimentality about how we should all accept each other despite our differences. It seems change is coming in the guise of a reality show star who renovates run-down homes, Margaux Needler (Allison Janey). A craven woman who’s blonde bouffant style hair all but dwarfs her entire body. She’s drained the swamp at the base of the mountain and set up a gated community in which the people who live there are stars of her show which she uses to advertise the homes in her community. 

Her beef with the Addams? Their house sits atop the community and thus depreciates the property value. The story itself isn’t that deep both due to the target audience and the scant runtime. Though with Puglsy fretting over an upcoming ceremony in which symbolizes his journey into manhood and Wednesday embracing the normal to irritate her mother, all the while the whole Addams family is showing up in honor of Pugsly’s Mazuka; it has enough for what it wants to do.

The Addams Family isn’t as meditative or evocative as say Abominamble but it is delightful and I found myself sitting in the dark with a smile on my face. When Morticia opens a window and looks out unto the gloomy foggy morning she sighs, “What a beautiful morning.” The window slams shut almost smashing her hands. The house grumbles “Get OUT!” Morticia tsks, “You’re always so grumpy before your morning coffee.” She then takes a pot of coffee, pours it into the toilet and flushes. The house shivers and the window opens as the house sighs.

Much like all iterations of The Addams Family, Vernon, and Tiernan, embrace the wholesomeness of the brood while playing off the gothic aesthetics. The message is clear, being normal at all costs, is damaging to one’s happiness and that beauty has no standards but the ones we place on it. All in all, it’s not a bad message for a generation growing up with phrases like “branding” and “influencers”. 

The animation style is broad and exaggerated. Morticia is pencil-thin in a way only possible in animation. Gomez is almost egg-shaped, as is Puglsy and Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll). At the same time, Wednesday and the other girls in her junior high have a variety of shapes and sizes. Keeping with the inversion of reality the Addams represent, the animators seemed to have given the women a wide array of body shapes and designs, whereas the men seem to all be modeled off the same perfectly rounded rubber ball.

As delightful as The Addams Family is it is largely just-fine. It’s hard to not be a little disappointed that the studio went with animation instead of a live-action if only because Oscar Isaac is as close to perfection as we’re likely to get for Gomez Addams. An actor with both range and versatility but who also seems imbued with such charm and charisma it’s a wonder he’s not an even bigger movie star.

The cast is somewhat astounding but since there are so many stories and so little time they are given little to do. Cousin It, that tiny little mop of hair which speaks in high pitch peeps and squabbles, who is so beloved by women and men everywhere is voiced by Snoop Dogg which considering how little he talks does seem like odd stunt casting. My point is that with such a large cast it’s a wonder more isn’t done or at the very least the movie isn’t long to flesh some of the stories out.

As delightful as the movie is I couldn’t help but feel as if something was lacking. In the end, The Addams Family feels more like a pilot episode for a Saturday morning cartoon rather than a movie. Despite those feelings though, I couldn’t help but enjoy my time with the spooky and mysterious though all together kooky family. 

Image courtesy of United Artists Releasing

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