A product that tries to aim itself at a new, younger audience likely unversed in the macabre manner of the original source material, as well as similarly hoping to endear itself to the crowds clamouring for a little nostalgia, the 2019 animated incarnation of The Addams Family can’t help but feel like a wasted opportunity to truly embrace the source material’s dark yet likeable temperament.
There’s some clever sight gags throughout, and when writers Pamela Pettler (Corpse Bride) and Matt Lieberman (the forthcoming animated Scooby Doo reboot Scoob) aim the humour at adults, The Addams Family feels like a far more comfortable seating; early on in the film the family’s morbid matriarch Morticia (voiced by Charlize Theron) applies eye shadow and blush to her deathly gaunt face using the ashes of her deceased mother and father (respectively) – no doubt a visual gag that will swoop over the heads of the younger audience members this film is ultimately catering for.
Speaking of Morticia, this particular telling of the Addamses details her ghoulish nuptials to her love, Gomez (Oscar Isaac), before they are run out of town by an angry mob. On their travels they run over an escaped mental patient (unintentionally, but they are nonetheless thrilled at the prospect of hitting someone), only to adopt him and prop him up as their man-servant, before setting up camp in an abandoned asylum atop a hazy hill in the one place no one would ever intentionally visit – New Jersey!
If this is all sounding a little unfriendly-for-children, you’re not mistaken. These early set-up moments of The Addams Family indicate that directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (the duo behind 2016’s crass animated comedy Sausage Party) will do away with Minion-type humour and survive on its mature-minded merits, but once Morticia and Gomez become parents to explosive-obsessed Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) and the emotionless Wednesday (a dry-witted Chloe Grace Moretz, a true vocal standout here), and we’re introduced to the story’s antagonist – Allison Janney’s faux-friendly Margaux Needler, a seemly sunny yet seriously sinister design network host – it dwindles down to the usual “be yourself / weird is wonderful” message that caters to so many outsider characters.
Through both Wednesday’s unlikely friendship with Margaux’s rebellious daughter (Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher) and Gomez assisting Pugsley with his odd coming-of-age ceremony, the thematics of The Addams Family very much lean into the acceptance of both yourself and others, and it’s always a fine message to deliver – especially in these times of social media manipulation – but it never delves particularly deep either, furthering the film’s problem to committing to a tone.
Given that the film doesn’t offer anything new to say, it is a bit strange as to why there was the need to reboot such a brand. Of course, simple animation and visual lunacy puts kids in seats, and if this is the best way to introduce children to this particular family without potentially scarring them through the far-more adult-aimed films of the 90’s – do yourself a favour and see the original and it’s sequel, Addams Family Values ASAP if you haven’t – then this can be considered something of a gateway success.