Autumn is upon us, the nights are drawing in and trick or treaters everywhere are preparing their pleas for sweets. There could be no better season for the alternative first family of the United States to return to our screens. And in these turbulent times, the comforting embrace of a dark cinema and a kooky family caper offer a welcome escape from reality.
Times have moved on for The Addams Family too. They have regenerated for a new generation and are now animated in form, if not character. Circumstances and burning torches have contrived to relocate Morticia and Gomez to New Jersey, where they dance through married life in the gloomy embrace of a haunted asylum, waited upon by its last remaining resident, Lurch.
The Addams Family mansion sits in glorious isolation at the top of a hill, surrounded by swamp smog. Children Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) have been able to grow up as free-range freaks, indulging their hobbies of taxidermy, amateur demolitions and homicide attempts with enthusiastic parental consent. But the swampy air is clearing and the winds of change are blowing in…
Previous incarnations of The Addams family have taken pleasure in teaching audiences to embrace their otherness until they become extended members of the clan. The new introduction to them is via a rather flaccid fish out of water plot in which the outside world intrudes not just on the family dynamic but on our ability to get to know them. The family of 2019 too often stand divided; by physical location, lack of emotional chemistry and poor storytelling.
Directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (who has a co-writer credit and lends his voice to several characters, including Lurch) squander the chance to trap us in the asylum on the hill with the family so we can feel an intimacy with and affection for its members and join them to peer down at the pastel horrors of the town below. They keep forcing our POV down there instead!
Reality TV has arrived in the town of Assimilation and its queen, Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) is very much channelling the Borg collective in her determination that everyone – the Addams included – will fit in with the design brief. Parker, her child, has other ideas and dreams of carrying off the pitch-black wardrobe and bully-smiting attitude of Wednesday who in turn antagonises her own mother with some Parker-inspired flair.
Like us, you may have been tickled by the notion that this cartoon feature could serve as a gateway drug for the ‘90s movies and original series for a brand new audience. But, mirroring the risk posed by the snap-happy entrance to the Addams’ mansion, your own nostalgia may not pass through this gateway unscathed. The superstar vocal cast sounds over-cautious and timid in their delivery, as though fearful of the ghosts of Morticias and Gomezes past.
Morticia’s (Charlize Theron) theatrical horror at humanity is underplayed and the majority of her appeal is in the charm of visual gags – like the ashes she applies on her wedding day and the extremely useful spiders up her dress. Oscar Isaac, voicing Gomez, seems existentially encumbered by his peculiarly angular heft and physically out of place with his own wife; destroying the singular chemistry which made the world fall in love with them. Pugsley’s focus is his coming-of-age ceremony and the elaborate sabre routine he must perform there. This is even less gripping than it sounds.
Most painful of all is the fact that Wednesday’s once scythe sharp wit is in urgent need of a whetstone. How can you unite the voice of Hit-Girl with the spirit of Wednesday Addams and come up with anything less than soul-flaying perfection?
Chloë Grace Moretz does have a few deadpan zingers to play with but an unforgivable amount of her screentime is squandered on material that is unworthy of the iconic Wednesday. The decision to animate her with the elongated forehead a fairground mirror might display only takes her lack of facial affect from comical to dull.
Despite the flaws, there are redeeming features. Allison Janney gives good baddie and the ghoulish accoutrements of living like an Addams are joyous as ever, providing giggles aplenty for younger viewers and a scattering of smiles for their escorts.
Any grown-up nurturing hopes that the reanimated Adammses would tango straight to your heart like Raul Julia will be monstrously disappointed. For a less critically discerning audience, of 10 years old and under, The Addams Family may just become your new best fiends this Halloween.
The Addams Family opens across the UK on October 25th