Cinematic Releases: The Addams Family (2019) - Reviewed

We are all different, and yet we are all the same. Such is a concept perpetrated by many instances of children’s and family media, and no one quite illustrates this idea better than the characters of a strange, effervescently macabre family named for its creator, Charles Addams. A subversion of typical tropes associated with suburban family life, The Addams Family started out as a series of New Yorker cartoons in the 1930s and has since spawned a wildly popular franchise extending from both live-action and animated television shows, films, and even stage adaptations. Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan’s newest version of the Addams clan is not so much a reboot as it is a continuation on a theme, bringing the bizarre and lovable misfits right into 2019 within the CGI funhouse of a film.

Fake Latin though it is, the Addams family motto first coined in the 1991 Barry Sonnenfeld movie, “Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc” carries over hilariously in this new adaptation, wherein Pugsley is an explosives expert, Wednesday longs to join the social-media snapshots of her new friend Parker, and the family mansion is an ancient, abandoned mental asylum. The film modernizes the Addams Family franchise in a way that doesn’t pander, and isn’t so obnoxiously hollow that it loses the original spirit of the characters and their infamous passion for life, difficult and dark as it may often be. Reminiscent of Edward Gorey, the art style plays with the recognizable caricatures we all know and love, and it’s honestly just a lot of fun to watch. There are enough smart little flicks of the wrist of wry humor to make it enjoyable for older viewers, although there is plenty of slapstick and silliness to entertain the littler ones. The Addams Family isn’t really about teaching lessons, although the messages of inclusivity and individuality that permeates their presence in media is certainly there; it is, instead, an examination of how a household like theirs would adapt its old-world charms to join the modern cultural universe.

If any of the characters truly learn a lesson, it is Morticia (Charlize Theron) – fearful of the world outside the mansion gates and nervous about sending Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) to public junior high, she must deal with the pastel unicorn barrettes and happy red balloons of her daughter’s strange rebellion, even as she tries to open her heart to a town she worries will reject her whole family. Boisterous and friendly,, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) embraces the town but hopes to turn it into an Addams paradise as he prepares to host a huge family reunion centered around Pugsley’s (Finn Wolfhard) coming-of-age ceremony – a feat of swordsmanship and dance for which he is woefully unprepared.

Reality “house makeover” star Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), horrified at the gloomy monstrosity of the Addams homestead right in the middle of the town she has fully assimilated as a bright and cheerful haven of homogeny in order to sell houses and thumb her control over people in a cookie-cutter version of American life, is nothing new when it comes to opposition to the Addamses and their way of life. She seems to have no motives aside from her television show’s success and her own petty closed-mindedness and desire to control every aspect of her community. She isn’t a threat we can take too seriously; anyone familiar with the Addams family has seen them triumph over far worse. But the film doesn’t seem to take her terribly seriously either, so it avoids an unnecessarily heavy-handed resolution and retains a relatively light-hearted outlook throughout.

The Addams Family is, at its heart, just a celebration of the franchise itself. It’s an entertaining, enjoyable version of the Addams tropes, with fantastic voiceover work (director Conrad Vernon is especially a ‘scream’ bellowing “YOU RAAAAAAAAAAAAANG?” as the Addams’ butler, Lurch) and cleverly animated scenes and character designs to match the aesthetic of the franchise. It doesn’t say anything new or particularly enlightening, but it delights in its little moments of humor and its foray into a modern version of who the characters are. Tattooed Uncle Fester has “No Regerts”, and neither will you, if you check out this creepy, kooky, altogether ooky little film. 

--Dana Culling