The latest cinematic outing for the first family of weird is the animated The Addams Family, an attempt to rebrand the Addamses for the new millennium, or possibly just an exercise in brand management, as the whole thing feels like it exists solely to renew an IP license. The Addams Family is from directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, who were previously accused of treating their Sausage Party animators like crap (the animators went on to win a lawsuit for back pay), and writers Pamela Pettler, a Tim Burton collaborator who has never been sued for labor abuses, and Matt Lieberman, scripter of Netflix’s Santa Who F-cks movie. The voice cast, led by Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron, as Gomez and Morticia Addams, respectively, is stellar. Isaac and Theron are joined by Chloe Grace Moretz (Wednesday), Finn Wolfhard (Pugsley), Nick Kroll (Uncle Fester), Snoop Dogg (Cousing Itt), Bette Midler (Grandmama Addams), and Allison Janney as Margaux, the antagonist. It’s really a shame the movie isn’t better, because this is a tremendous voice cast—honestly, this would also be a tremendous live action cast.
But live action is a real problem for The Addams Family. In the early Nineties, two live-action movies were released, The Addams Family and Addams Family Values—the rare sequel which is better than its predecessor. Those movies totally hold up, and feature pantheon-level performances from Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christina Ricci, and Joan Cusack. In rebooting the Addamses, it was smart to choose animation, true to Charles Addams’ original illustrations and also staying far, far away from the live-action movies which still thrive in pop culture today. Two problems, though. One, the animation in The Addams Family is awful. The character designs are taken from Charles Addams’ cartoons, which is nice, but they’re rendered so ugly it’s kind of hard to look at. “Ugly on purpose” is its own aesthetic—think of Laika’s Paranorman, which is so detailed in its hideousness it comes around to charming—but The Addams Family is not particularly detailed. The animation is shallow and flat, making even good sight gags less impactful than they should be, without any kind of interesting framing or depth to make them really pop.
The second problem is the story. The Addams Family finds the Addamses holed up in a former insane asylum in New Jersey, somewhere “no one would be caught dead”, per Morticia. The family, used to being run out of town, just wants to live in isolated, creepy splendor. Wednesday, however, is curious about the outside world, and doesn’t see why her family has to be isolated. Casting Wednesday into an oppositional relationship with Morticia is one thing, but envisioning Wednesday as the least bit interested in “normalcy” goes against her grain as a character. Wednesday, especially in Addams’ cartoons, is often a lonely figure, but nothing about her entire history suggests a character interested in being less “kooky spooky”. It feels like a misstep here.
Also, the theme of “different is okay” is nice and all, but the live-action movies knocked that sh-t out of the park. Further, Addams Family Values features a defiant and open attack on a mainstream American institution in Thanksgiving, so every attempt by these animated Addamses to set apart from the norm is just pointless. You’re never going to do anything sharper or funnier than Wednesday’s camp attack on Thanksgiving, so why bother? The story feels lazy and reductive, rendering the Addamses toothless and uninspiring. And how sad! The Addams family is a beacon of strange, an invitation to oddballs everywhere to revel in their weirdness.
Wednesday wanting to merge her natural Addams spookiness with something more normal isn’t just wrong, it feels like a betrayal of every offbeat young girl who isn’t interested in the same things as her classmates. Making a kids’ movie about appreciating differences is fine, and the Addams family aren’t even the wrong vehicle for that message. But the way it’s executed in The Addams Family is lazy, and instead of reinventing these characters for a new generation, it just makes the Addamses no different from any other second-rate Pixar knock-off. If you want to see a good Addams family movie about accepting differences in one another and wearing your strange with pride while rejecting social norms, just stay home and rent Addams Family Values.