'The Addams Family' Isn't Sufficiently Creepy, Kooky, Mysterious Or Spooky
Do you feel that chill? It's the beginning of October, when store shelves are lined with Halloween products branded with the latest theatrically bound IP. This year, a cotton-candy funhouse animated version of The Addams Family hits theaters, returning the long-running franchise to something closer to its original form — cartoons in The New Yorker.
In this newest version, which often feels de-clawed, we see the marriage between Gomez and Morticia Addams, voiced by a maniacal Oscar Isaac and a quietly authoritative Charlize Theron, and their subsequent move to New Jersey, having been driven out of town by an angry mob none too pleased with their sundry differences in appearances and behavior. In the present, their son, Pugsley (an unexceptional Finn Wolfhard), prepares for a Bar Mitzvah-esque rite of passage involving swordplay, which the whole extended family will attend. Their daughter, Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz, whose breathy voice trickles like a leaky faucet), seeks a life outside the haunted mansion on a hill, enrolling in junior high school.
Meanwhile, in what feels like 21st century homage to Edward Scissorhands, a pastel-tinted planned community develops in the valley adjacent to the mansion, and the town leader, Margaux Needler, the host of a home & garden reality television show, attempts to remodel the mansion and rid the town of the family. Voiced by Allison Janney, Needler looks like a boardwalk caricature drawing of Farrah Fawcett.
Fortunately, the film offers more than just a retread of its forebears, the Tim Burton movie included. Though at times clumsy, the film's firm placement in the present allows for an only slightly exaggerated Nextdoor parody: Needler spies on her neighbors using an app. While intriguing in theory, the execution offers only vague, toothless commentary.
The film doesn't take full advantage of the medium of animation. Nitrogen Studios is still a young shop; its last project, the raunchy Seth Rogen comedy Sausage Party, is about as far from The Addams Family in tone (and family-friendliness) as one could get. There are moments where the animated world contains a surprising amount of texture — splashing water, at one moment, spills onto a table cloth as dusty light filters in from outside. Animation also allows for looser character designs: Wednesday sports braids that form nooses, her pale head looks like a thin balloon. Morticia appears more skeleton than human.
But from scene to scene, the film is dominated by blandness — it lacks the texture of the franchises previous live-action adaptations, or even similarly designed animated movies like Corpse Bride. Instead, much of the emotion of the film is lost in the soupy cement of computer animation. You find yourself longing for more moments like the clever one in which Wednesday's irises shrink into oblivion as she terrifies her brother.
The movie's pacing suffers as well; it's wildly uneven. I enjoyed the scenes in which the family descends on the village, unleashing fears and frights on the conformist townspeople. What we see of Uncle Fester — voiced by Nick Kroll, channeling Gilbert Gottfried — works well.
But there are too many scenes that drag, or otherwise feel more perfunctory to set up the rather flimsy plot. A "battle" scene between Gomez's swordplay and Pugsley's demolitions exists solely to set up a theme of generational divide — but that idea receives scant attention until the film's conclusion. The butler Lurch frequently plays the piano — to what end? To be sure, at about an hour and a half, the film breezes by. But like the candy that will inevitably get loaded into Addams Family-branded buckets on stoops at the end of the month, it's only empty calories.