Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 19, 2020)
Although the characters originated as cartoons, we’ve mostly seen Charles Addams’ “Addams Family” adapted into a live-action format. The 1960s TV series probably remains the most famous, though two early 1990s movies also did well.
Animated TV adaptations arrived in 1973, 1992 and 1998, but none of them lasted long. That makes 2019’s big-screen animated Addams Family the most significant non-live-action take on the property.
When Gomez Addams (voiced by Oscar Isaac) weds Morticia (Charlize Theron), they find themselves threatened by locals who feel hostile toward their unconventional and macabre ways. As they flee, they locate a decrepit old asylum in New Jersey, and they adapt this to become their home.
13 years later, Gomez and Morticia continue to enjoy life in this abode, and they reside with children Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard). However, when real estate developer Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) creates a prefab community nearby, she objects to the scenic blight brought by the gloomy Addams mansion.
While Gomez and Morticia deal with the threat from Margaux, the kids go through their own issues. Kept home her whole life, Wednesday wants to explore the rest of the world, and when she goes to regular school, she befriends Margaux’s daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher).
In addition, Pugsley needs to go through a rite of Addams passage called the “Mazurka”, a fancy ceremony at which he must perform. He seems unready for this, and tension results.
That seems like a lot of plot threads for one 87-minute movie, but Family actually handles them pretty well. It gives enough time to each story point to ensure they receive reasonable development, but it doesn’t belabor any of them.
Not that one should expect much depth, as a lot of these narrative notes feel like they exist more to prod visual gags than anything else. Wednesday’s move to the “real world” allows us to get anachronistic images of her in pink clothing and the like, and Pugsley’s antics come with all sorts of silly gags.
Despite all these story beats, one can’t really call Family a particularly plot-heavy film – or a particularly good film, either, though it manages to hold its own.
Actually, Family starts pretty slowly, and it pursues fairly trite themes and jokes. Granted, it can be tough to generate novel laughs from the clan, as we can see so many of the gags in advance.
The basic Addams shtick stems from the way they view the horrible as delightful and vice versa. There’s plenty of humor to be mined from those concepts, but too often, Family selects easy options.
Still, as the plot threads proceed, the movie becomes more interesting, and the macabre jokes feel more natural. They start to exist as an organic part of the story and not just an excuse for cheap laughs.
The actors seem to settle in as matters progress as well. For the most part, they appear to base their performances off the 90s movies and not the 60s TV show.
That means that Isaac’s Gomez offers a pretty blatant Raul Julia imitation, but Isaac still manages to add spark to the proceedings. Theron’s version of Anjelica Huston’s Morticia seems less successful, though some of that relates to the nature of the character.
Morticia offers a deadpan role, and the movie gives her relatively little to do. Theron doesn’t harm the part, but she can’t bring a lot of presence.
Moretz’s Wednesday semi-reflects Christina Ricci’s terrific performance from the 1990s, but she overplays the role too much. She makes Wednesday too expressive, especially when compared to the perfectly dry delivery we got from Ricci.
Wolfhard tops Jimmy Workman, but that seems like less of a challenge, as the boy didn’t offer very good work in the 1990s movies. Nick Kroll’s Uncle Fester differs from Christopher Lloyd’s and actually works better, as he brings comedic zest to his scenes.
We get terrific performers in smaller parts as well. Bette Midler offers a fun take on Grandmama, and in a too-short bit, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short delight as Morticia’s parents.
(SCTV fans seem likely to recognize O’Hara’s work as a riff on her Katharine Hepburn. Short also provides a clear reprise of his “Irving Cohen” character, though alas, Morticia’s daddy never asks for a bouncy “C”!)
Honestly, I can’t find a lot to love about the 2019 Addams Family, but I can’t come up with many reasons to dislike it either. Though nothing special, it brings a reasonable amount of entertainment across its brief running time.