And Now the Scariest Thing of All, Suburbia – The Addams Family

I’ve always been a fan of The Addams Family, though admittedly I’ve never read the comic or seen the stage musical. The old TV show, though? Loved it. The 90s movies? Loved them (and harbored a crush on Christina Ricci for a good 20 years). The cartoon series? Loved it. So yeah, I was already predisposed to like this new animated film, with its all-star cast and surreal visual approach to America’s favorite all-together ooky family. While the movie wasn’t what I expected, there’s still enough here to enjoy and recommend.

The film begins with a rushed origin sequence for the family and their home. Morticia (Charlize Theron) uses the ashes of her late parents as facial makeup and weds Gomez (Oscar Isaac). The local villagers in this “old country,” having had enough of how weird the clan is, chase them out, with Grandmama (Bette Midler) and Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll, doing a voice that I initially thought was Gilbert Gottfried) helping the newlyweds to escape with Thing in tow. They flee to the place “no one would be caught dead in,” New Jersey, where they encounter Lurch (Conrad Vernon), a wandering patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. They all go up a hill to that palatial asylum, haunted with a voice screaming “GET OUT!” and declare it their home.

This is a clever opening, certainly, filled with the obsessive love that Gomez and Morticia have for each other, and like most of the rest of the film, Charlize Theron plays Morticia as a cartoon just as believably as Angelica Huston did in live-action. The one drawback for me was that I was more hoping for some sort of explanation as to why the Addams clan acts the way they do, and also what mysterious and spooky origins there are on Morticia’s side of things. Apart from what I can only assume are her bridesmaids, we never really get any insight into how she became the macabre temptress she is. For Gomez, we have a litany of relatives, for Morticia, not so much. I know her maiden name is Frump (which, given her figure, is obviously used ironically), but otherwise I got nothing. Are there multiple families like the Addamses? How did Gomez court Morticia? How does Thing factor into any of this? The beauty of animation is that the possibilities of the universe you build are endless. I’m not exactly upset at this opening, just a little disappointed at the missed opportunity to grant some real insight into these wonderful characters.

Fast forward 13 years, and the family is preparing for a celebration, as son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard, who seems to be in everything these days) is preparing for his Mazurka (not to be confused with the Mamushka, which I still love to this day; God I miss Raul Julia), a rite of passage similar to a bar mitzvah, where Pugsley must perform a ceremonial saber dance and prove he’s ready to defend the family, thus making him a man. As enthusiastic as he is to show up for his family, Pugsley is not much of a swordsman, preferring to playfully assault his father with explosives. Still, he commits to put his best foot forward. This is a refreshing storyline, as the two live-action films didn’t really give Pugsley much to do, the focus being much heavier on Wednesday for the childhood antics.

Speaking of everyone’s first goth crush, Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) is full of woe and ennui, wishing to explore what lies beyond the fog surrounding their home after she hears a bicycle horn in the distance. That horn and bike belong to Parker (Eighth Grade‘s Elsie Fisher), who lives in the town below, a town that has been planned down to every conformist, suburban, homogeneous detail by her mother, Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), a home renovation TV host who created the town of Assimilation (yes, they seriously called it that) as her crowning achievement, hoping to cash in on her perceived perfection. Imagine if the town from Edward Scissorhands was actually created, but just for a gag instead of any kind of visionary directorial spectacle.

On a particularly sunny day, the fog around the Addams household clears, and the two entities see each other for the first time (which is very hard to believe, but I’ll just go with it for the sake of the story). The family drives into town to greet their neighbors, confused by their strange rituals like cheerleaders and marching bands in a central square, or sugary confections like ice cream and churros. Learning that the town has a school, Wednesday requests to enroll and leave her “cage schooling” behind, if nothing else than to observe social interactions.

She eventually befriends Parker, and helps her take a bit of poetic revenge against one of the popular mean girls. Encouraging individuality and rebellion against an overbearing parent, Wednesday gets Parker to completely change her look, going from stock character to emo poser addicted to her phone and pleading for “likes” on Instagram quicker than you can say, “Billie Eilish.” This is Elsie Fisher’s second major role, and both of them have her pleading for validation from social media. I fear she may become pigeonholed. Meanwhile, Wednesday puts a pink unicorn barrette in her hair, utterly shocking Morticia, who fears she is losing her connection with her daughter.

On the other side of the equation, Margaux makes it her mission to remove the eyesore of the Addams home and expel them from her community. After the family refuses her near-demolition suggestions for renovating their home, she uses a neighborhood watch app to pose as different people and spread rumors about them. As more Addamses trickle in for the Mazurka (led by Fester and Cousin Itt, ostensibly voiced by Snoop Dogg by speeding up his “izzle”s to an Alvin and the Chipmunks level of pitch), Margaux steps up her character assassination and paranoia game, bolstered by the hidden cameras she has in every manufactured home in town, which essentially lets her impersonate and blackmail the entire town. White people, amiright?

The entry-level nature of the plot would almost come off as insulting, especially given the potential of the source material, were it not executed so well. This is in large part thanks to the fully-committed voice cast, led by Theron and Kroll giving the top performances, and the really well done character designs, particularly for Morticia and Wednesday. The set piece sequences are staged beautifully, from Pugsley launching projectiles at Gomez, to Wednesday reanimating a classroom full of dead frogs, to the literal lion that scampers about like a kitty cat. And whenever there’s too much tension, there’s almost always a well-timed morbid joke to break it up. In particular, there’s a moment where Lurch – deep, grumbling Lurch – breaks out into a high falsetto while singing R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” that is just inspired.

In the end, this is just a simple family story, with a father trying to do right by his son, and a mother trying to give her daughter a degree of independence without losing her entirely. In that way, the film is sweet and accessible, if a little misplaced. A sequel has already been greenlit, and it’s my sincere desire that the next film takes advantage of the world it’s created to give the family some more backstory, because if the filmmakers want this to be anything more than a passing trifle, it would certainly behoove them to do so. We already know the Addamses really are a screa-um. How about telling us why?

Or at least give us another Mamushka.

Grade: B

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Who’s your favorite character from the franchise? Isn’t it fun to be a non-conformist like everyone else? Let me know!

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