The Addams Family has endured for nearly a century, a prized piece of pop culture that celebrates individuality with a dark, twisted sense of humor. Originally created by Charles Addams as a New Yorker cartoon, the mysterious and spooky family became iconic with a television show which aired two seasons between 1964 and 1966. Almost thirty years later, Barry Sonnenfeld brought the macabre family back into the limelight with two feature films in the early 1990s. Because of this, everyone has their own favorite version of the Addams brood — and now there’s a new contender with MGM’s new animated feature The Addams Family (2019).
In 2019, our mass media has caught up with the once “kooky” Addams family values. Macabre entertainment has been popularized and brought into the mainstream. Dark humor permeates large blockbusters and television, and grisly true crime media has grown into a cultural phenomenon. It can feel as though The Addams Family doesn’t have the bite necessary to compete with the pitch black humor of today’s entertainment.
I’ve heard this 2019 version of the gothic household called too saccharine for its source material. I wholeheartedly disagree. The truth is, the Addams family has always been a sweet family unit, united in their love for each other and the horrors the world has to offer. Where The Addams Family truly shines is in staying true to who these characters are while bringing them into the modern world.
The Addams Family utilizes a humdrum story that’s been the template for many family films. It involves the Addamses encountering a town called Assimilation and a home makeover television star that wants their spooky house out of the way. It’s “be yourself” theme is hammered into the script with little finesse, and certain plot points are taken from the works of films such as The Lorax and Despicable Me. Yet, all of this manages to feel at least a little fresh with the cast of characters populating it.
While the plot line is full of clichés, it works in context of the source material. Gomez and Morticia have always been counter cultural, even if they’re blissfully oblivious to their roles as such. There are some changes to the typical formula, however. Here, Morticia is given an awareness of society’s perception of her that hasn’t been present in previous adaptations. Cell phones and pop music are foreign to the Addamses, a development never seen before. This is truly The Addams Family in 2019.
For all the derivative elements The Addams Family boasts, directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan (the men behind the NSFW animated feature Sausage Party) imbue the film with clever sight gags and wordplay. When Morticia grows shocked at Wednesday’s rebellious nature, the color comes back to her face — only to be immediately drained out by a vampire bat. A character that towers above everyone is revealed to be about two feet tall. Gomez tells Wednesday to “do her worst” when he drops her off at school. The laughs are consistent, and the jokes are based in character traits that we know and love, making them more effective.
The greatest strength of The Addams Family is it’s clear and present love for the characters. Every member of the family is given time to shine, and the stellar voice cast brings vibrancy — or the necessary lack thereof — to their respective characters. Oscar Isaac has never been more animated than in his role as Gomez Addams, and Charlize Theron is delightful as the deadpan matriarch Morticia. Nick Kroll takes inspiration from Jackie Coogan’s portrayal of Uncle Fester from the television series, squawking in a high register and having a great time. The characters are the same as they’ve always been, but with enough invention from the performers and animators to make them fresh iterations.
Speaking of, the animation is top notch, especially the character design. Taking cues from Charles Addams’ original illustrations, the characters are interesting and dynamic from a visual standpoint. Everyone has slightly off-kilter features. Even the “normal people” in the story have odd structures that lend themselves to the creepy, kooky vibe the film cultivates so well. The settings are also golden, the dark, gothic trappings of the Addams estate nicely juxtaposing with the equally creepy perfect pastel of the Edward Scissorhands-esque suburb that intrigues Wednesday. The film looks beautiful — while maintaining a macabre vibe.
Futhermore, The Addams Family isn’t interested in simply vilifying people who are perceived as normal. Wednesday, who has been groomed for gloom her entire life, feels alive when she wears a colorful clothing. She rebels against her mother’s dark and dreary culture in an attempt to see what else is out there and truly find herself. Pugsley rejects the use of a sword in his Mazurka, instead wishing to use explosives, his weapon of choice. Gomez and Morticia, like any parents, are flawed in their attempts to keep tradition alive in their children without any room for exploration. The film asks the question: what happens when “different” becomes the norm? In 2019, it’s a relevant question to ask.
Yes, there are many derivative elements throughout the film. But these derivative elements largely work in favor of the characters and the relationships between them. The Addams Family has always had a sweetness beneath the dark humor; the sweetness is just a little more pronounced here. Its message isn’t the most subtle, but in a world where one can cultivate an echo chamber of friends, it’s a valuable one.
At the end of the day, The Addams Family serves as an October film that captures the spirit of the Halloween season, a rare find in 2019. It will play well throughout the month, filling the gaping hole of Halloween entertainment in theaters. The creepy, kooky family is back in fine form, and I couldn’t be happier. Regardless of the plot surrounding them, spending time with these characters is always enjoyable.