This animated reboot of TV’s spookiest family plays its kid-friendly scares a bit too safe.
Well, that’s out of the way.
The time certainly seems right for the pop culture resurrection of The Addams Family, and not just because Halloween is nigh. It’s a beloved property that also seems a safe bet in a time of seemingly endless reboots, remakes, and sequels. And the Gothic sensibilities of the creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky, and altogether ooky clan always seems to appeal to audiences.
It’s not exactly surprising. While the dark humor that embodies this particular franchise means there’s potential for not only an endless supply of wacky situations that seemingly upend the established order, there’s also the simple fact that at their heart, the Addamses are as old-fashioned as any nuclear family — they’re loving, devoted to each other, and uncomplicated in their affection.
It isn’t just my millennial bias that keeps the 90s version, especially Addams Family Values, in not just the back, but the forefront of my mind. Anjelica Huston was nominated for a Golden Globe for that performance, and countless aspects of the film itself became iconic — Christina Ricci’s portrayal of Wednesday Addams especially continuing to inspire in her droll camp energy.
The 2019 version, directed by Sausage Party‘s Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, boasts a similarly fantastic cast, and a devotion to the spooky Addams traditions in all their animated glory. It begins at the very beginning, with Morticia (Charlize Theron) preparing to tie the knot with Gomez (Oscar Isaac) by gloriously dolling herself up with boots that must be literally screwed together and makeup that consists of the ashes of her deceased parents.
Alas, their happy day gets interrupted by one of those pesky mobs, complete with torches and pitchforks. Morticia and Gomez escape with a renewed zeal for finding a place to start a family in safety, preferably somewhere dark, isolated and corrupt. Luckily for them, their trip to New Jersey leads them straight to an isolated, foggy estate that includes an abandoned asylum so haunted it requires a fresh cup of coffee in the morning, which the family is happy to provide via toilet.
13 years later, Gomez and Morticia seem to have everything they wish, including the addition of their two children Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) and Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz), who have never been outside the gates of their spacious home. But complications – and the outside world – arrive when reality TV host Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) makes over the nearby town, dubbing it Assimilation (yeah, subtle this movie is not), and is horrified to discover the Addams abode, which of course clashes with everything she’s built her brand on.
At their heart, the Addamses are as old-fashioned as any nuclear family — they’re loving, devoted to each other, and uncomplicated in their affection.
Naturally, the Addams family doesn’t exactly fit in with the cheerfully conformist mindset the town of Assimilation embraces, and the movie itself seems confused on how to handle the inevitable clash, touching on several routes without exploring them. Is it a commentary of how conformity can go both ways, with Morticia and Gomez displaying some pretty rigid expectations for their children as well? How online communities can exacerbate the spread of vicious rumors and misinformation? How easily privacy can be violated?
The Addams Family doesn’t seem to know, and neither do we. There’s plenty of genuinely funny gags and jokes, but when real commitment isn’t behind them, the humor tends to be err on the forgettable side regardless of delivery. Even the central conflict is swept aside to a baffling degree in favor of the same old lessons on family, traditions, and being yourself. It doesn’t make for a great film, but it also doesn’t make for a terrible one. Rather it’s another average family film that plays it safe despite its claims to edginess.
The Addams Family snaps into theaters October 11th.