Dir: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon. Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, and Bette Midler. PG cert, 87 mins.
The new Addams Family film was always going to disappoint the gothic at heart. America’s favourite clan of weirdos have been made the stars of a shiny, brightly coloured animation – think of it as Despicable Me dressed in a pound shop Halloween costume. Yet while the film scrubs off a few too many cobwebs, it does one thing very well: it reminds us why we all fell in love with these characters and their kooky, ooky antics in the first place.
To be clear, the film hardly stands up to its live-action counterparts (both 1991’s The Addams Family and its sequel, Addams Family Values), which arrived off the back of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice in a mini-golden age of family-friendly spookiness. But here, the film looks back even further, past the 1960s television series to Charles Addams’ original, single-panel cartoons. The designs of the characters have been faithfully copied, though it’s odd to see such caricature-like faces – Wednesday looks like a thumb, while Morticia is 70 per cent chin – rendered in the ultra-smooth, realistic look of 3D animation.
First appearing in the New Yorker in 1938, the Addams Family were primarily tools to satirise the most mundane aspects of American suburbia. In one panel, the family invite a babysitter over. “Get the children to bed around eight,” Morticia tells her, “and keep your back to the wall at all times.” That sensibility is very much alive in the new film, which turns its focus to more modern concerns – mainly gentrification and immigration. Having fled to New Jersey to escape the torch-carrying mobs of their homeland, the family are under the impression that they’ve finally found a safe haven. That is, until their marsh-ridden neighbourhood is suddenly overtaken by a new housing development, spear-headed by TV personality Margaux Needler (Allison Janney). The film may never land on a message stronger than “be yourself”, but it at least puts an old story in a context that makes sense today.
It helps that The Addams Family has managed to attract such a fine calibre of actor: Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron voice Gomez and Morticia, with Chloe Grace Moretz and Finn Wolfhard as their devilish offspring Wednesday and Pugsley. There are cameos galore. Snoop Dogg, for some reason, rolls up to play Cousin Itt.
More importantly, the film’s morbid enough not to tarnish the franchise’s legacy – in the opening scene, we watch Morticia do her make up with the cremated ashes of her parents. Directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan (the duo behind R-rated raunchfest Sausage Party) even sneak in a surprising amount of jokes for the adults in the room. We get a glimpse at Thing’s secret foot fetish, while there are nods to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island.
Sure, The Addams Family may not reach the ghoulish heights of its predecessors, but the key ingredients are still thankfully there. This is no reanimated corpse of a film.
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