Grade: C+/B-
Entire family: Yes
2019, 87 min., Color
MGM / Universal
Rated PG for macabre and suggestive humor and some action
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Amazon link

I’ve been scratching my head over why The Addams Family 2019 animated feature film isn’t as entertaining as the original 1961 live-action television series.

Then again, there are probably better things I could do with my time. Feature films based on half-hour TV shows have a long history of limited success, with filmmakers either unable to capture the tone of the original or unable to expand the basic plot and premise to fill out the additional minutes. And films based on novelty sitcoms from the sixties have been particularly prone to bomb. I’m talking about feature-length versions of My Favorite Martian, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Underdog. Even slightly better ones like The Brady Bunch movies and George of the Jungle were a mixed bag, with only Get Smart coming close to matching the success of the original half-hour series.

Writers Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler took an immediate wrong turn with an opening pre-title sequence in The Addams Family that has more in common with the Frankenstein sagas than the popular TV series inspired by the Charles Addams New Yorker cartoons that began appearing in 1938. Addams’ famous understated tongue-in-cheek humor is supplanted by more over-the-top gags and characters, wrapped up in an overly familiar plot. Yet, none of these things is necessarily the kiss of death, and The Addams Family isn’t a BAD film. It’s just not a very good one. For the most part it’s dull, and there aren’t enough moments to delight. What’s more, the TV Addams family’s charming obliviousness to how different they are from everyone else is replaced by a monsters vs. humans and us vs. them dynamic that’s far too common and clichéd.

Still, there was promise here. When you see Morticia putting on make-up that consists of eye shadow taken from her mother’s crematory urn and blush from her father’s urn, you think, clever. When “normal” people interrupt the wedding of Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) and try to “kill the monsters” and Morticia suggests they escape to someplace “no one would be caught dead in” and we see “Welcome to New Jersey” sign, you think, funny. And when the disembodied hand “Thing” hops aboard the harpsichord that Lurch plays keeps giving the thumbs-down sign until Lurch finally plays what would become the familiar TV Addams Family theme song, you think, so that’s where it originated.  

The trouble is, there aren’t enough such moments, and the plot falls victim to stock characters and clichés. Rebellious daughter Wednesday Addams (Chloë Grace Moretz) sneaks off and spends time with the Parker (Elsie Fisher), the daughter of a local TV-show personality slash real estate developer. Predictably, Wednesday turns Parker Goth, and Parker gives Wednesday a Pretty-in-Pink make-over—both designed to shock their respective parents.

Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard), meanwhile, is tied to the main plot. In the pre-title sequence we saw Gomez pull out his sword and defend the family with an elaborate dance of swordsmanship. Thirteen years later, all of the Addams’ family relatives are going to assemble at their house for Puglsey’s “Mazurka” (an actual peasant dance that the writers appropriated). But, of course, Pugsley just wants to blow things up and doesn’t have the slightest aptitude for swordplay. A third main plot thread involves TV-show fixer-upper host Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), who emerges as the villain.

But I miss the old Addams Family, with their charming naiveté and the romantic connection that Gomez and Morticia had. Both are casualties in an animated film that has so many explosions it may as well have been directed by Michael Bay instead of Conrad Vernon (Monsters vs. Aliens, Shrek, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted) and Greg Tiernan (Sausage Party, Thomas & Friends). Evernon and Tiernan are signed on to direct an animated sequel slated for 2021 release; hopefully they’ll come up with something more original and trust Addams’ characters enough to let them do their thing without being forced into a one-size-fits-all narrative structure.

Language: Nothing noticeable

Sex: One person who’s spied on via hidden cameras puts her underwear in the freezer and another sits on the toilet backwards, but this is summarized, not shown

Violence: Lots of explosions of the Wile E. Coyote / Road Runner variety, obviously intended as a joke but still so violent that you have to wonder what’s funny; in two scenes townspeople turn on the “monsters” and the battle can be frightening to very small children 

Adult situations: Some adults drink, but really the “adult” is more macabre, with lots of spiders, skeletons, and reversals of normal expectations

Takeaway: Maybe the filmmakers, in trying to make a PG offering, went with a familiar Saturday-morning plot because of young viewers, but for this film to work it needed a more original plot OR more frequent clever gags and lines and details to divert us from an overly familiar narrative