By Jim Slotek
The Addams Family, the animated take on the mordant satirical family of lovable freaks created by cartoonist Charles Addams’, opens and all-but-closes with enraged villagers bearing torches – albeit contemporary villagers bearing “lighter apps.”
These, ahem, overheated moments don’t so much evoke the gothic cool of Gomez and Morticia Addams’ clan as they do Hotel Transylvania, the hit animated franchise that belongs to a competing studio.
To that end, whether your reference point is the ‘60s sitcom or the Raul Julia/Anjelica Huston movies, this is the first version of The Addams Family to sell itself pointedly as a children’s cartoon, a “Hey, we own the rights to monsters too!” response to someone else’s template.
It is, in short, far from the spirit of the original Addams Family, which, after all, began in that not-so-noted source of children’s literature, The New Yorker.
But if we’re going to evaluate The Addams Family as a kids cartoon, let it be known that the youngest children at the screening I was at were as antsy as ants. This is one of those animated features that veers way towards adult references for the parents in the room, while creating occasional mayhem in the pursuit of short-attention-span theatre. The latter fails.
The in-jokes are sly enough to get the odd chuckle from parents. (Or maybe grandparents. A sample ‘70s musical reference: the ceremony at Gomez and Morticia’s wedding is finalized by the bride, groom and guests putting “lime in the coconut and drinking it all up.” Later, Lurch treats us on the pipe organ to Green Onions and REM’s Everybody Hurts).
The movie begins with a flashback and an origin story of sorts. It begins at the Addams’ wedding, with some promising touches (including Morticia, voiced by Charlize Theron, applying the ashes of her mother and father as eye shadow). But the attendees are sent fleeing by the aforementioned mob, with the newlywed Morticia and Gomez (Oscar Isaac) being spirited away in a car driven by the disembodied hand Thing (no idea how that works).
Their destination, “someplace horrible and corrupt” where they can live their lives free from persecution, which turns out to be New Jersey (whose state motto, apparently, is “What’re you lookin’ at?”). At once, they manage to both collide with the behemoth Lurch (co-director Conrad Vernon) who’d become their butler, and encounter an abandoned and haunted insane asylum high atop a hill, which would be their dream home.
Not a bad set-up. But 13 years later, we discover the “normal” world has caught up with them, with their beloved swamplands below being drained and converted into a pastel-coloured suburban community called Assimilation, overseen by a Home and Garden reality-TV star named Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), who considers the Addamses a blight on the land.
The encounter with normalcy sets up the morality tale, which is, of course, that the “monsters” are the normal ones. A rebellious Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) tires of “cage schooling” and demands to attend junior high, with her new friend Parker (Elsie Fisher). Parker, who’s Margaux’s daughter, learns from Wednesday that she doesn’t want to be her mother’s definition of “normal” and adopts a goth look. Wednesday rebels by putting something like a My Little Pony figurine clip in her hair (even though Morticia warns that “pink is a gateway colour”).
This all happens against the backdrop of Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) ineptly preparing for his “Mazurka sword ceremony,” a kind of bar mitzvah for ghoulish misanthropes.
Along the way, there are too many, ahem, dead spots. And too many moments (and cartoon explosions) that seem tacked on to liven things up.
A lot of the casting seems gratuitous as well. Snoop Dogg voices the gibberish-voiced Cousin Itt, sounding nothing like Snoop Dogg, and leaving his mark on the character only to the extent that Itt arrives in a tricked-out limo wearing a bowler hat, sunglasses and a cane. (Giving an excuse for Snoop to contribute incongruously to the soundtrack).
The animated visual take by Montreal-based Cinesite (Gnome Alone, Charming) is interesting, with people variously stick-figured or grub shaped, a la The Nightmare Before Christmas-lite. But it can’t overcome the movie’s central flaw, which is that it takes something that, at heart, is whimsically grim comedy for adults, and infantalizes it.
The Addams Family. Directed Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon. Starring (voices) Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz. Opens wide, Friday, October 11.