The Addams Family (Photo: United Artists)
THE ADDAMS FAMILY
** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Conrad Vernon & Greg Tiernan
STARS Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron
Here’s the thing about the Addams family, whether seen in print (Charles Addams’ original cartoons for The New Yorker), on television (the 1960s sitcom), or on film (the early-‘90s features starring Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia). They’re creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky, and all together ooky. They’re not bland, toothless, cuddly or conformist. Yet as reimagined for the new animated effort The Addams Family, they’re about as edgy as Strawberry Shortcake or The Care Bears.
The reason, obviously, is that United Artists wants to snag as many box office dollars as possible, and that’s not gonna happen with a movie that might unsettle the small fry and encourage parents to march to the studio gates with pitchforks in hand. So a property that has always provided most of its pleasures to adults has been recalibrated to appeal to the youngest of audience members. From a business standpoint, it makes sense to cast as wide a net as possible (then again, should we now expect animated PG piffle based on Saw or Hostel?). But those seeking that Addams eccentricity are likely to be disappointed.
Aping any superhero flick, this begins as an origin story, relating how Gomez (voiced by Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) are married just before being chased off by pitchfork-wielding villagers. They decide to relocate to New Jersey, along the way picking up a faithful manservant in Lurch (co-director Conrad Vernon). They eventually have two children, Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard), and are joined by Gomez’s brother, Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll). All is fine in their dilapidated mansion on the hill until Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), the host of a home makeover TV show, decides that their house is an eyesore and must be removed.
There are a few clever gags scattered throughout the movie (such as the pale Morticia finding her face full of color after being startled and requiring a vampire bat to drain her of blood to return her ashen complexion), but these prove to be the exception rather than the rule. Instead, the picture follows the strict Family Film 101 guidebook by insisting that the usual life lessons are handed out with the clockwork precision of grown-ups filling kids’ Halloween baskets with candy.
The fiery passion between Morticia and Gomez has been neutered, with Isaac and Theron falling in line by offering flat line readings. The MVP — in this case standing for Most Vivacious Performer — is easily Kroll, who seems to be channeling the series’ Jackie Coogan as he brings Uncle Fester to loopy life.
The messages of “Be yourself” and “Accept all others” — valuable in other kid flicks — are out of place here. In 1993’s Addams Family Values, Wednesday and Pugsley are sent to a summer camp full of obnoxious Stepford kids. The movie ends memorably with Wednesday and the other outsiders burning down the camp and sending the entitled brats scattering. Were that scenario in this movie, it would end in forgiveness and a big group hug. That’s wonderful in real life, but that’s all together icky in an Addams family outing.