The Addams Family Review
The Addams Family (2019)
Dir: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan | Cast: Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Oscar Isaac | Writers: Charles Addams (based on characters created by), Conrad Vernon (story by), Erica Rivinoja (story by), Matt Lieberman (screenplay by), Matt Lieberman (story), Pamela Pettler (screenplay)
A reboot of The Addams Family has been in the works for close to ten years, originally devised by Tim Burton as a stop motion project, before passing through countless hands in the years since. The final product is something less straightforwardly ghoulish than initially planned, with this reboot seemingly positioned as a rival to the ever popular Hotel Transylvania franchise, where the comic antics of the unusual family are positioned next to generic child friendly morals about being yourself.
In the hands of directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, the inspired kookiness of the original comic books and previous adaptations has been jettisoned in favour of a lazy attempt to capture the magic of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Transylvania films - failing so badly it makes the cynical cash grabs by Illumination Studios feel like the pinnacle of the animated art form. The directors, who previously collaborated on 2016’s Sausage Party, have managed to assemble an excellent voice cast who are theoretically perfect for the roles. But the problem is that none of them seem to be particularly enthused with the material, with all the line readings delivered with an enthusiasm interchangeable with the deadpan affectations of Wednesday Addams.
The debate on whether or not Marvel films should be described as cinema, due to criticisms from directors like Martin Scorsese, has provoked some absolutely tiresome discourse. And yet, watching The Addams Family reboot, all I could think was that even as somebody who isn’t a particularly big Marvel fan, none of their films feel like soulless content in the same way that this does. It’s one of the most cynically made, indifferently written and performed studio films I’ve seen in quite some time.
Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Moriticia Addams (Charlize Theron) live in a haunted New Jersey property atop the mountains. Son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) is training for his upcoming “Mazurka” ceremony, a rites of passage that will make him a man, while daughter Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) is having growing pains as she wants a normal childhood. One day, the family realises that a new neighbourhood has been built by TV personality Margaux Needler (Alison Janney) down below - but when she discovers that the Addams’ are the new neighbours of this community, she does all she can to get them to move, and to destroy their house in the process. This is complicated by the extended family visiting in time for the Mazurka, and by Wednesday befriending Margaux’s daughter Parker (Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher).
The film’s laziness in screenwriting not only makes running jokes fall flat (at one point Gomez claims to hear music for the first time, despite numerous irrelevant sequences of Lurch playing instrumental versions of pop hits), but also the morals of this story. The screenplay by Matt Lieberman, who previously wrote Kurt Russell’s Santa movie The Christmas Chronicles, seems uncertain as to whether it wants to celebrate individuality and embrace the Addams’ as who they are, or whether the children should find their own voices by conforming to a stereotypical American childhood. The end result is something that wants to have its cake and eat it; keeping the characters kooky enough to justify a sequel, while also softening the weirdness of the world to offer a fairly problematic moral about conformity at odds with the story’s overtly “anti-conformity” message earlier on.
And this is only scratching the surface of a bigger problem. Yes, the images of misunderstood people being chased out of town by pitchfork yielding citizens are a staple of classic monster movies - but here, this trope has been rejuvenated as a half-baked attempt to offer some criticism of divisive politics in the Trump era. More intriguingly, it’s the first children’s film to offer some sort of commentary on the concept of election hacking; Alison Janney’s Margaux Needler has a secret basement where she spies on the townsfolk, and uses multiple fake social media accounts designed to manipulate people’s opinions on the Addams Family. But these prove to be empty nods at larger commentary strictly for the parents, that don’t have anything to offer even at a narrative level, getting swept under the carpet in favour of lazy jokes and half hearted, easily digestible morals.
But everything about The Addams Family is lazy. It’s the most visually repugnant animated film since - well, Vernon and Tiernan’s previous directorial effort Sausage Party. After that film, there were numerous reports alleging that Tiernan’s management style was abusive, and that employees were forced to work unpaid overtime to keep the film at a smaller budget. How the pair have been given the reins to another high profile project, despite widespread criticism from animators for the way they were treated under them, is genuinely baffling. The production on this film may have ran a lot smoother, but the poor quality of the end product remains a constant.