Think Your Family Is Weird?
Following an initial introduction and the nuptials between Morticia [Theron] and Gomez Addams [Isaac], the central characters escape their unwelcoming surroundings (it’s not clear where but I’ll get back to that) and settle down in an abandoned isolated asylum in New Jersey. Over the years, the Addams family expands to include their daughter Wednesday [Moretz] and son Pugsley [Wolfhard] and live in peace, with the occasional visit from extended family members such as Gomez’s brother Fester [Kroll]. Meanwhile, a failing reality TV host, Margaux Needler [Janney] has created an entire community dubbed Assimilation (yes, it’s very on-the-nose) and intends for her show’s season finale as an effective advert, selling the properties shown in the fledgling town. With the swamp drained, the mist clears and reveals the one looming residence which doesn’t fit in to Margaux’s grand design, drawing an immediate spotlight on the Addams family and bringing them into regular society.
There was a distinct buzz when this feature was initially announced, predominantly surrounding the casting choices. As with many intellectual properties that have been absent from cinema for a while, the internet circles discussions around who would be an ideal fit for such a release. On paper, this cast is not only fantastic but damn near perfect. Then upon discovering that the movie would be animated, rather than live action, there was a wave of concern before it was confirmed that the character designs would mimic the original iconic cartoon. So before the film came close to completion there was a fairly healthy speculative hype, especially when taking into consideration how quickly Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was dismissed for simply being an animated release no one asked for, before it proved itself to be the best Spider-Man cinematic venture. Unfortunately, The Addams Family sits at the opposite end of that spectrum.
Admittedly, while the 60s TV series was never that clever in its execution, it had a level of wit and warmth that is painfully absent from this release. The script makes that classic animated family film faux pas of bashing out a flat, uninspired story, littered with tired jokes that talk down to the audience. Even the simplest of lines feel like they haven’t been thought through, displaying a first draft amateurish quality. For example, when attending her first day in an actual school, Wednesday is told “Have a good day at school, do your worst.” On the surface there isn’t much to dissect here – do you worst rather than do your best, simple switch – except the logic that is deployed for the latter half is not present in the earlier half. Sure, this may come off as pedantry but this line is a prime example of the contradictory, lacklustre attempts at humour that are painfully sophomoric and could have so easily been fixed with a touch more care and attention. The real frustration stems from the fact that there are a handful of genuinely funny moments that, though so few and far between, offer a glimpse of what could have been a very entertainingly written family feature.
To say this film is heavily inspired by the work of Tim Burton could feel incredibly short sighted and false, as there is a which came first the chicken or the egg debate that could almost definitively conclude that Burton has clearly been influenced by The Addams Family. But that aside, the filmmakers behind this release have equally been influenced and inspired by Burton’s oeuvre and it shows. Borrowing heavily from both Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, in terms of both narrative and aesthetic, the plot unfurls predictably and uninventively and while some could argue that “it’s a kid’s film, it doesn’t need to be smart,” I genuinely feel that is the weakest retort and one need only look at films by Studio Ghibli and Pixar to realise how insulting that is to their target audience. Speaking of the demographic, there are a handful of odd reference points (as US comedies tend to) that alienate international viewers but this feels especially unusual considering the odd sense of time period. See, while the bulk of the film is quite clearly set in the non-descript present day, the prologue takes place in an entirely separate location that looks like your typical gothic, eastern European village that is solely referred to as “the old country.” Over the years, The Addams Family brand has been used to both entertain and amuse, while satirising things like the nuclear family, the rise of the suburbs and dysfunctional relationships. One could argue that this story tries to tackle familial expectations of tradition and the dangers of turning on outsiders through manipulation of far-reaching and invasive technology, which on paper sounds like extremely positive and promising points to address but in truth the film never really cuts deeper than surface level observations and resolves with the most straightforward of solutions.
Before closing this review I would also like to take a moment to address the visual state of western animated family films. I don’t want to completely trash the hard work that animators do but the general creative direction is so remarkably bland and often simply tries to emulate a physically shot feature, rather than playing to the unique strengths of animation. This is something I will likely repeat for years to come but I watched both The Grinch and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse in the same month and was blown away by the astonishing difference in detail and quality, only to later learn that the latter only made two thirds of the box office of the former. The Addams Family is another prime example of a safe and ultimately forgettable CGI animated film that relies on dull direction and great swathes of slow-motion. I will concede that the character designs being in keeping with the original cartoon was a welcome treat but this doesn’t make up for, what boils down to, an incredibly weak and generic visual style for a film that should be packed with nuance and detail; even the Hotel Transylvania films felt more visually in keeping with what I would want from an Addams Family film but as with The Grinch, this film will likely make well over its budget and earn an equally humdrum sequel.
25 October 2019
The Scene To Look Out For:
At the end of the movie, once all the speeches have been given and the cheap moral has reared its head, we end up with a rushed conclusion of the extended Addams buying the houses of Assimilation and welcomed with open arms. But the thing that irked me was that, apropos of nothing, Margaux falls for Fester and starts a relationship with him. In the first Addams Family film there is a similar development between Margaret and Cousin It but that slowly and logically builds over the course of the film. This development, however, is simply a ridiculous character 180 degree shift that lazily trades logic for a neat resolve, with absolutely nothing about their personalities fitting this proposal.
For some reason, Thing (the disembodied hand and friend/servant of the family) is given an eye in the form of a watch attached to his severed wrist. It’s not used enough to justify (or possibly even truly notice) the change and feels like a rushed afterthought. I imagine this is down to producers saying the character needs to be more expressive, which is how we ended up with moving faces on Ultron and Optimus Prime. And briefly getting back to the point of contention surrounding creativity, there are so many ways to make a character like Thing expressive (some of which are utilised quite well in certain scenes) that the lack of facial expressions should be freeing for a creative. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they got Bette Midler to play Grandma and did nothing with her!
“This day is becoming most wonderfully disruptive”
In A Few Words:
“A deeply lifeless and bland adaptation that adds very little to the existing legacy but as with movies like Jurassic World, the novelty for a new audience will likely ensure its fiscal success”