THE ADDAMS FAMILY – GOOD MOVIE WHICH JUST FALLS – LONG – OF BEING AN EXCELLENT ONE

SHORT TAKE:

Charming animated movie based on the Addams Family characters, created decades ago by Charles Addams, but honestly, with not enough plot for a full length feature.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone who is interested. No sex, there is ghoulishness but nothing really scary (except for perhaps the very young), cartoon (obviously) violence, no bad language, but could be a bit slow for any of the youngish set used to the quick and flashy.

LONG TAKE:

The story, for anyone not familiar with this quirky bunch, is about a tight knit loving family who do not quite fit the standard mold. (Though some of them may be a bit — moldy.) Resembling nothing so much as a band of ghouls, vampires and assorted monsters, they frighten the neighbors wherever they go. In truth they just wish to be left (to rest) in peace to raise their children and live (or be dead) without bothering anyone else. Unfortunately, a developer buys the land around their home and a neighborhood eventually grows up around them. And not your ordinary neighborhood but a carefully planned and controlled one which sees the Addams as a threat to their desire for plastic conformity.

While this is a promising premise, alas The Addams Family animated feature falls not short of being a classic but too long. They had all the ingredients of a five star triumph: engaging memorable characters, excellent voice acting from grade A actors, excellent though stylized animation, and even a built-in multi-generational cult audience.

Unfortunately, what they did not have was a plot that could sustain a feature-length film.

When the kids were little we all picked a theme song. I won’t tell you what anyone else’s was but I will tell you that they ranged from Broadway to rock and roll and mine was the theme song from the TV show The Addams Family. “They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky, they’re altogether ooky … ” Okay, well it wasn’t Shakespeare but what it WAS was confident, eccentric and whimsical. While others saw them as odd and scary, I saw a warm loving and wholesome (in their own way) family. Gomez and Morticia were very much in love even after many, possibly hundreds, of years of marriage. The kids were homeschooled, they lived with extended family – Gomez’s brother, Fester, and Morticia’s “grandmama”. They took good care of their pets – well, OK a lion named “Kitty” and a tall man eating Venus fly trap named Cleopatra. Gomez was an extremely successful, kind and philanthropic businessman who kept an open pocketbook to anyone in need. They adored their children, spent all their time together as a family, were welcoming to everyone, including the neighbors who occasionally ran from the bemused but well meaning family in terror. They never forced themselves on anyone but were  happily content to quietly go about their own business. Yet they were looked at askance just because they chose to do things a little — differently.

In short they reminded me of — us.

As a kid I enjoyed The Addams Family for its unusual humor and adorable characters. Later in life I had a much deeper appreciation for their situation. A LOOONG time ago when the kids were little, homeschooling was a very peculiar affectation to many people. The two most common questions we got were: “Homeschool – where is that?” and “Is that legal?” Many thought we were crazy. Even some of our friends would distance themselves when the subject of educating children came up. And our families were convinced we would tire of this “cultish” idea. 30 years later we had graduated all 6 out of high school and into college and careers. And retrospectively I recognized – we WERE The Addams Family to a lot of people.

So they hold a special place in my heart.

The source material is from a single panel comic by Charles Addams that featured regularly in The New Yorker. It specialized in dark and macabre humor: Morticia discarding the blooms of flowers to keep the stems. The children chopping the heads off of dolls with a child sized guillotine. The 1960’s TV show with John Astin (the adopted father of Sean Astin aka Samwise Gamgee) as Gomez and Carolyn Jones as Morticia, kept the dark comedy, but converted it into a cockeyed Leave it to Beaver sitcom. The movies, with Raul Julia taking over for Astin, and Angelica Houston for Jones, echoed their predecessors with devoted enthusiasm and ramped up the outlandishness of the family’s eccentricities. I thoroughly loved all of it.

This animated movie wisely pulls from all three. The voice acting is perfect and evokes the — uh — spirit of all the unique personalities: Gomez harkens back not to the good looks of the human leads but portrays Gomez as the short squat little pin-stripped ghoul he was originally drawn to be. The acting talents of Oscar Isaacs (Star Wars, Operation Finale) and Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde, Tully, Mad Max: Fury Road) instill Gomez and Morticia with all the lively personality of their live action predecessors. And while Chloe Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows, Carrie) as Wednesday is much like Christina Ricci’s stone faced version from the live action movies instead of the sweet faced Wednesday from the TV show, Nick Kroll (Operation Finale) does a spitty mouthed Uncle Fester which is far closer to Jackie Coogan’s version in the TV show  than Chris Lloyd’s feature film Fester. Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things and It – that kid better watch it as he’s well on the way to being type cast) did a lovely job as the voice of the good natured but “explosively” enthusiastic Pugsley. Bette Midler (singer extraordinary and actress from The Rose) does a surprise “appearance” as the voice of Grandmama. SCTV veterans Martin Short (Inner Space) and Catherine O’Hara (Ode to Joy – see my post HERE) perform an adorable cameos as visiting deceased spirits who give Morticia advice. I think all the choices made by the animators and actors worked together beautifully – cherry picking the elements which work best in this medium and blending them together like the tints in a fine painting.

The music uses both modern and iconic, employing the likes of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” as well as the familiar theme song from the TV show. Of particular note is the BRILLIANTLY inspired end credit sequence wherein the animated characters repeat precisely the scenes shown at the beginning of the TV show: Morticia and Gomez’ sword practice, Lurch at the organ, Fester’s smudged post-explosion face – in a loving homage to the wonderful 1960’s super quirky sitcom.

Unfortunately, unlike the live action movies, there is just not enough for these wonderful characters to do. Events — occur — and there is a theme of conformity versus independence, but it is more Road Runner booms and sight gags than storyline. There’s lots of quick one-liners and don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-them clever sight gags, but it just doesn’t all quite gel into a whole idea worthy of its 87 minute run time.

The “villain”, Margaux Needler, ultra-micromanager real estate mogul and TV show host, who will stop at nothing to get her “perfect” development off the ground, is a carbon copy of the perfectionist and micromanager homeowner association chairwoman Gladys Sharp, whose personality is lifted right off the storyboards for Over the Hedge. Both characters are even voiced by the same actress, Allison Janney.

It’s not that The Addams Family is bad, but it treads no knew ground and drags. With the content available here this would have been far more successful as a quick paced 20 minute short.

However, I think with the talent at hand and the rich potentials for the premise they could do SO much better and I look forward to a sequel if the writers would just put a bit more effort into the script.

But for all the flaws, I was delighted to see my favorite eccentric family on the big screen again.

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