The Addams Family is the latest adaptation of one of the most beloved properties of the previous century. They are, of course, that motley cast of characters who first appeared as a comic strip in The New Yorker magazine during the 1930s, and have withstood countless incarnations including television series, cartoon series, feature films and video games.
With such an iconic legacy, parental guidance would seem unnecessary, and with its bold PG rating, audiences are forewarned of its cheekiness and wicked tendencies. What would The Addams Family be without their penchant for the macabre and all things decadent? So let it be known that this movie is devilishly grim and frivolously dire – but not without charm and fundamental goodness – and parental discretion is most certainly advised.
The film begins with Gomez (Oscar Isaacs) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) and the rest of the extended Addams clan being driven out of town by small-minded locals with pitchforks. Their search for sanctuary has them arriving at an abandoned asylum, which sits atop a fog-swept mountain high above the planned township of Assimilation.
13 years later the town becomes the focus of a home-DIY television reality show hosted by Marguax Needler (Allison Janney), whose career is riding on her ability to sell every single house within the community. When the fog lifts and the Addams’ house is revealed, she rallies the neighbours to help drive the family of misfits out of town. And so begins a story of morbid eccentricities and a calamity of hijinks, all bound together by underpinning themes of prejudice and diversity.
With credits such as Shrek 2 and Monsters vs. Aliens, as well as Sausage Party, co-director Conrad Vernon brings a well-measured balance of childish perception and adult sensibility. His approach to the characters is very much aligned with their original conception, with the designs and animation paying direct homage to the comic strip of the ‘30s. While perhaps more deserving of stop-motion animation (which the film was initially planned to be, with Tim Burton onboard) than CG, the family’s quirkiness is ever present and the assortment of freakish delights is plentiful.
The Addams enjoy the usual things like misery and despair. Morticia is house-proud and likes things kept sombre and decidedly filthy, while Gomez prides himself on his gnarly swordsmanship and misadventure. Their son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) is obsessed with explosives and their daughter Wednesday (Chloe Grace Mortez) is perfectly depressed and fascinated with death. Uncle Fester is a notorious creep and Grandmama Addams is a practicing witch. And of course the rest of the clan includes Thing, Lurch and Cousin It, as well as the entire extended family of freaks and oddballs. Expect Ouija boards, guillotines, embalming fluid and other macabre accessories.
Fans of the previous adaptations – notably the 1960s television series and the two theatrical features of the ‘90s – will be relieved to discover that none of the iconic traits are ignored. Having reached a point where popular culture is now sanitised for the safety of young minds, it’s refreshing to see a film push beyond those restraints, offering something both challenging and heuristic. Such provocative family fare is rare, with a few notable examples being Coraline, ParaNorman, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Monster House. These are stories that offer young minds a good scare, while simultaneously providing learning blocks for resilience and personal strength. Like the stories of old – from the Brothers Grimm and Roald Dahl, or the countless scary kids flicks of the 1980s –The Addams Family ignores the safety net and sets out to thrill and amuse its audience with the classic brand of black comedy that has entertained throughout the decades.
The Addams Family could traumatise a pre-school-aged audience (and is not for them), but when given the respect the PG rating deserves, it’s a fun-filled animated adventure that will thrill tweens while providing parents with a healthy dose of nostalgia.
In cinemas: December 5, 2019
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz
Directed by: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon