Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review: "The Addams Family"

“The Addams Family” was a great concept for a TV show, with such vivid, off-kilter characters, but I can’t recall a single episode if pressed.

It was a one-joke show, and later one-joke live-action movies: the Addamses are death-obsessed freaks and monsters who love darkness and decay. They’re the mirrored opposite of the standard American family, openly trying to kill each other instead of pretending to adore one another.

They’re a Halloween clan. Instead of embracing creepy stuff one night a year, they live it 24/7.

The two Barry Sonnenfeld pictures were a hit, but after Raul Julia (as patriarch Gomez Addams) died young no one wanted to continue the franchise. Anjelica Huston (un-maternal Morticia), Christini Ricci (dour daughter Wednesday) and Christopher Lloyd (the other one) as ultra-creepy Uncle Fester all milked good roles.

A quarter-century later the Addams are back as an animated movie with voices by Oscar Isaac, Charlie Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz and Nick Kroll (respective to how they’re listed above).

It pretty much hits all the notes you expect: familiar reprises of the main characters with a few noticeable twists; amped-up action scenes courtesy of the endless possibilities that come with computer animation; and some rote life lessons about the importance of family... even a murderous one.

We get a little of the family backstory, which sounds astonishingly similar to the "Hotel Transylvania" flicks: the monstrous clan was chased out of its ancestral home by torch-bearing villagers and set up shop in a lonely cliffside mansion in the worse place possible: New Jersey.

Cut to 13 years later, and they've never stepped outside the grounds of their haunted house, formerly an asylum, which comes complete with an evil spirit constantly moaning "Get out!" and trying to sever fingers with slamming windows or whatnot.

First son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) is preparing for his ritual passage into manhood, known as a Mazurka -- think bar mitzvah but with deadly saber dance moves. Gomez is fearful that his offspring just doesn't have the family goods.

Meanwhile, Wednesday yearns to find out what's beyond their fence, and discovers that an entire town has sprung up in the valley below. A blowhard home-improvement TV maven named Margaux (Allison Janney) runs the show there, a pink-and-green wonderland of tackiness that's borrowed straight out of "Edward Scissorhands."

Wednesday decides to attend the junior high school in the city, called "Assimilation," in case anything's too subtle for ya. She befriends Margaux's daughter, Parker (Elsie Fisher). The two become friends and join in a rebellion going in opposite directions, with Parker adopting a goth look and Wednesday adding unicorns and color splashes to her family's signature B&W shtick.

"Everyone knows pink is a gateway color," Morticia frets.

Moretz is terrific as Wednesday, giving her just the right lilt and formality in her inflections to always render her lines funny. Theron is good too as Morticia, who has no visible feet and floats around in a skinny black dress that hides spiders and other creepy-crawlies.

I noticed most of the men are drawn with thick, chocky bodies while the women usually have cartoonish spindly limbs and torsos. The opening sequence shows Mortician literally bolting and screwing herself into her gown, and I wish the filmmakers had thought about this stuff beforehand.

Thing is here, the body-less hand bounding about in a helpful way. In this iteration he actually has a small eye at the wrist, which is either a new thing or something I'd never noticed before. In one of the film's funnier throwaway bits, we learn that Thing has something of a foot fetish, which kind of makes sense when you think about it.

Giant butler Lurch (Conrad Vernon, also one of the directors) groans and serves, though he's got a bit of an eye-roll thing and has some decidedly fancy side interests. Cousin It (Snoop Dogg) shows up pretty late in the game, big pimpin' in a Cadillac and still indecipherable under all that hair.

"The Addams Family" was directed by Vernon and Greg Tiernan, who made the much-overrated "Sausage Party" together, from a screenplay by Matt Lieberman. My kids enjoyed it well enough, but it's cookie-cutter disposable entertainment that tries just hard enough.

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