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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Addams Family

This animated all-ages film trades in generic storylines and bad jokes that don't do its weird and wonderful family any justice.
By Sarah Ward
December 05, 2019
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The Addams Family

This animated all-ages film trades in generic storylines and bad jokes that don't do its weird and wonderful family any justice.
By Sarah Ward
December 05, 2019
  shares

Like her relatives, Morticia Addams (voiced by Charlize Theron) is supposed to be creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky — but in the latest version of The Addams Family, she's just creaky. Unleashing tiny spiders to build a bridge over a bottomless pit (in the family's basement, naturally) in one scene, the vampish matriarch coughs up a cringe-worthy line that everyone can see coming: "we call this surfing the web".

Morticia's dad joke would prove a grim omen for this new animated take on America's most macabre family, except that it's sadly preceded by plenty of others. By the time the above dialogue is uttered, a groan-inducing town called Assimilation has already sprung up down the hill from the Addams' imposing mansion. And, within said house, sentient, unattached hand Thing has also been seen wearing a watch with an eye on it. To be honest, the pain starts in the prologue, which doubles as an obligatory origin story. As Morticia and Gomez (Oscar Isaac) tie the knot 13 years before the movie's main narrative, Fester (Nick Kroll) tells them to put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up. That's how things are done "in the old country", apparently.

This opening gag doesn't nod to the 1930s New Yorker cartoons that first introduced the Addams clan, or the 60s live-action TV series that followed, or 90s big-screen favourites The Addams Family and Addams Family Values. Rather, it references Harry Nilsson's 1971 novelty song 'Coconut' and serves no one — unless this iteration of The Addams Family is aimed at fans of a singer from half a century ago, Quentin Tarantino aficionados who know the tune from Reservoir Dogs, or anyone familiar with Dannii Minogue's 1994 cover (again: no one). The track is hardly obscure; however, even as a throwaway line, non sequitur or piece of absurdist humour, it leaves audiences scratching their heads instead of laughing. Really, it just smacks of the filmmakers giggling among themselves at a bad joke, without considering whether it's relevant to the story they're telling, its characters or their viewers. Alas, as the rest of the flick shows, that seems to be directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (Sausage Party) and screenwriters Matt Lieberman (Playing with Fire) and Pamela Pettler's (Corpse Bride) approach overall.

Flimsy from the outset, The Addams Family charts the predictable clash when Assimilation's residents — and celebrity interior designer Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), who financed the town — aren't happy about their odd neighbours. This revelation coincides with Pugsley's (Finn Wolfhard) swordplay-heavy coming-of-age ceremony, which brings the extended Addams crew to visit and scares the locals even further. Cue life lessons about accepting those around you, being yourself, not judging spooky-looking people by their appearances and other similar clichés. Margaux and her mob attempt to bully the Addams family out of the area, Gomez stresses over Pugsley's fondness for bombs over blades, and Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) shocks Morticia by befriending Margaux's daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher) and daring to fit in.

The fact that the Addams clan stands out has always been their point, ever since their cartoonist namesake created the weird and wonderful figures. In their aesthetics, interests and behaviour, Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, Pugsley, Fester and Grandma (Bette Midler) are clearly the opposite of the stereotypical American household, and the resulting juxtaposition — and the horrified reactions to their monster-like appearance, as well as their strange and supernatural ways — makes a satirical statement. But, even bringing social media, lifestyle gurus and a few other bits of modern technology into the mix, The Addams Family circa 2019 doesn't have anything new to say. It doesn't have much to say in general, really. Given that the family-friendly film also lacks in story, jokes and creativity, the result is ghoulish, and not in a manner that'd do the fictional characters proud.

It doesn't help that, although inspired by Charles Addams' original drawings, the animation is dull — including the character design. Creepy, kooky and the like can look delightful on the screen (and all-ages appropriate), as Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline and ParaNorman have all shown; however, this has more in common visually and tonally with the broad and bland Hotel Transylvania movies. The picture's celebrity voices can't fill in the gaps, either. Mostly, hearing Isaac as Gomez makes you wish that someone had made a new live-action version starring him instead. That would've required more effort, though, which is something this thin, generic and not-at-all offbeat film shows few signs of. Rather, it features Snoop Dogg as Cousin Itt purely so that it can play 'Drop It Like It's Hot' when he's first seen on screen, a level that even abysmal 1998 direct-to-video threequel Addams Family Reunion (no, no one remembers it) didn't stoop to.

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