The famously creepy and kooky Addams Family are back for the first time since the poorly received Addams Family Reunion film of 1998. This incarnation is a snappy and buzzing animation that brings the Addams into the 21st century and delights both kids and adults alike with its colourful (or not) characters and cheeky jokes.
Arguably one of the most famous American TV families (aside from The Simpsons),The Addamses have been deeply entrenched in popular culture since they were first created by American cartoonist Charles Addams in 1938 and then
graced (or splattered) our screens in the hugely popular television series from 1964. Various manifestations of the ‘mysterious and spooky’ bunch have gone on to include musicals, cartoons and the very successful 90s films directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.
The glossy new family film of 2019 has all the quips and quirky, macabre loving characters we’ve come to love together with plenty of energy and vibrance to keep the little ones entertained.
Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon with a star-studded vocal cast, the film starts with Gomez and his elegantly icy wife Morticia getting chased away at their wedding by an angry mob. The family now needs a new home and where do they head to? New Jersey; a place “no one would be caught dead in.” Fittingly, the family stumble on their perfect home, an abandoned asylum on a hill. Lurch, an escaped mental patient whom they hit in the car on the way, becomes their butler.
The Addamses invite us into their new home with an opening sequence that feels like a wild ride through a horror theme park, but all with their renowned tongue-in-cheek humour. We get all the droll wisecracks from Morticia as she plants her morbid stamp. The haunted house demands; “GET OUT!” and Morticia (voiced by Charlize Theron) replies “You’re just grumpy because you haven’t had your morning coffee” which she proceeds to feed to the house by pouring it down the toilet.
We jump to thirteen years later and the family have managed to maintain their gloomy isolated world. Gomez (Oscar Isaac) prepares his son Pugsly (Finn Wolfhard) for his family right of passage, the Mazurka, while the young daughter Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) gets curious about the world outside the mansion after finding a balloon and some confetti that had floated into the property.
We dash into the starkly contrasting colour of the nearby town, Assimilation, as brash and glamorous TV host Margaux Needler (magnificently voiced by Allison Janney) is ‘keeping up appearances’ in her perfect planned community. Margaux is preparing a live television event in which she plans to sell 50 new properties. Her ambitious plan is thwarted when she discovers the eyesore of The Addamses home, busting out with grey pride on top of the hill. Then begins her mission to force the family to renovate and refresh their ‘home’ so they can ‘fit in’.
While our nostalgia buttons are satisfyingly pressed with the family and their witty remarks and love of all things black and morbid, the real highlight of this film are the ‘normies’ – the characters of Assimilation town led confidently by Margaux. With elements of the creepy forced smileyness of places depicted in films like The Truman Show and The Stepford Wives, Assimilation town is full of ‘happy’ and conforming characters all doing their bit to appear sane.
Janney steals the show as the smiley two-faced Margaux who will stop at nothing to sell her houses. Her voice conveys the necessary ‘knife behind my back’ twinge and crazy determination: “I think that woman is deranged” comments Wednesday “Her face reminds me of a death mask”.
Chloe Grace Moretz brings an intriguing mirth with her flat tones as Wednesday who rebels against her mother and ventures outside the sombre world of her family to explore the supposed ‘normalcy’ of Assimilation town. She befriends Parker, the neglected daughter of Margaux, and their territories crossover as Parker discovers gloom and frightful while Wednesday cheekily experiments with joy and fluffy (such as wearing a rainbow-coloured unicorn hair clip – much to her mother’s disgust).
This is one of the more interesting subplots of the film as Parker and Wednesday develop an unlikely bond with Parker going ‘emo’ and taking on the goth look. There’s an intriguing gay subtext to this relationship and a satisfying futher reference to modern day LGTBQI+ in Parker’s friends in Junior High who don various rainbow accoutrements to their school uniforms. Unfortunately this subplot seems to fall by the wayside as we come back to Pugsly and his right of passage ceremony and Margaux taking matters into her own hands in her plot to get rid of the Addams bunch altogether.
Writer Matt Lieberman has penned a screenplay that both satisfies the nostalgia in older generations while also bringing modern relevance to the long-standing brood. The jokes, if occasionally cheesy and throwaway, work well in maintaining the buoyant pace of the film. There’s social commentary on technology addiction with ‘Tinder’ like swiping, and social media as Parker remarks to Wednesday: “I haven’t taken a photo of my lunch in like three days!”. Lieberman also explores the notion of the outdated and somewhat damaging effects of traditional schooling as Gomez and Morticia recoil at the strange concept of ‘junior high,’ with Gomez remarking: “Ju-noir high? Ah, I have read about those in my Abnormal Psychology journals.” Clearly with the ironic town name “Assimilation,” Lieberman wants to weave a heartwarming message about social awareness and that outsiders and conservatives can come together realising they have a lot in common.
The visual effects achieve enough dazzle and amusement to entertain anyone. What’s different about this animation is that it returns to the look of the original cartoons from The New Yorker between 1938 and 1988, with the tentacled train of Morticia’s dress and Wednesday’s grey oval face and slit-like mouth.
There are some memorable moments as the effects team support Lieberman’s script when Morticia unleashes a flurry of spiders to create a bridge across a huge pit so the family can get across and Uncle Fester releasing bats on the helpless happy-go-lucky locals of the town while subjecting them to a hilarious dance.
Ever the ‘weirdos’ and outcasts are the Addamses and in this incarnation they’re back to remind us to embrace our weird and resist the pressure to conform. Those looking for the story calibre of the early 90’s films may be disappointed with this one, but taken as it is – some lighthearted fun and frivolity for all ages – it’s a delight worth biting into.
The Addams Family is showing in Australian cinemas this Thursday.
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