Review – Creepy, Kooky, Meh-sterious and Spooky (“The Addams Family”)

From the New Yorker magazine comic panels to the 60’s TV series to the movies, The Addams Family has never ceased to fail (unless you count that mind-numbingly bad 1998 movie, Addams Family Reunion) with their delightfully macabre sense of humor, off-beat way of life, and unending line of goofy (Cousin Itt!) relatives.

From the animation studio that brought us the raunch-fest, Sausage Party, this throw-back story gives us the Addams Family via the 1960’s TV version complete with such callbacks as: Cleopatra, the carnivorous plant, the pet lion Kitty, Gomez standing on his head, Lurch playing his harpsichord, and more. Even the ending credits mirror exactly the TV series beginning credits. Anyway, this movie begins with Gomez (voiced by Oscar Issac, but sounding just like the late Raul Julia) marrying his beloved Morticia (Charlize Theron) and fleeing angry villagers to a more civilized place… like New Jersey!

After finding a new home (a haunted and abandoned insane asylum up on a hill), they settle in with their new butler Lurch, and Thing, their disembodied hand-servant (but this Thing has an eyeball strapped to his wrist!) Years go by and we meet their odd kids: sullen tween Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) with hangman nooses for pigtails, and her younger brother Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard), who has a penchant for high explosives and mischief. While Wednesday yearns for more than her provincial life, Pugsley is fearing his upcoming “mazurka”, (think bar mitzvah, but with swords).

Meanwhile in the village below, crazed reality TV host Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) has staked her career, reputation, and impossibly huge hairdo on a wild gamble: building Assimilation, a fully built township that is ready for potential buyers. BUT! Having those creepy, kooky, and ooky Addams’ as neighbors? That’s a problem! As nasty Margaux plots to get rid of them, her picked-on tween daughter, Parker (Elsie Fisher), makes friends with Wednesday and hijinks ensue; Wednesday starts to wear pink and help Parker out at school, while Parker turns goth and wears only black.

Oh, and did I mention Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll), Grandmama (Bette Midler), and Cousin Itt (Snoop Dogg)? Yeah, they’re in this too. As the plot winds down to its predictable and lazy ending, I couldn’t help but think of what kind of movie this could have been as a stop-motion movie by Tim Burton, as it was originally intended back in 2010. Screenwriters Pamela Pettler (Corpse Bride, Monster House) and Matt Leiberman (The Christmas Chronicles) must’ve watched alot of the TV series, ’cause the feel is there (minus infamous Gomez’s train set and Fester’s nail bed), but it’s lacking cohesion. The fact there are FOUR plots going on at once hurts the overall story, plus the animation  isn’t on-par with the likes of Pixar, Blue Sky, or Sony Animation.

This ‘wet spaghetti’ script has many jokes and one-liners that, sadly, only hit once in a while. You can tell there were trying waaay too hard and missing SO many golden opportunities for rich comedy (like there was in the ’91 & ’93 movies). Instead, Pettler & Leiberman opted for just generic “safe” and boring humor and a simplistic, ho-hum, family-friendly movie. Even the voice-over’s were dull and could have been ‘punched-up’. At least directors Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2) & newbie Greg Tiernan (Thomas The Tank TV show) kept the action moving, which helped the viewer overlook the chaotic, jumbled stories.

To the film’s credit, it DID manage to do something unique: animate the original sketched cartoon drawings of Charles Addams, which had never been done before. And if you’re a fan of the TV series (like me), it’ll be a kick to see all the Easter eggs thrown in, so that’s not too bad. But as far as the story(s) is concerned? Meh. The plots look like they were stolen from several 1973 Saturday morning cartoon TV shows. C’mon guys! You had time to write a great screenplay and THIS is what you come up with? As Gomez would say, “Aye, carumba!!”     

The Addams Family (1991)

Based on the truly bizarre comic panel by Charles Addams, this movie gave the terrific 1960’s TV series a run for its money. Rare that a feature film based on a comic panel AND an old TV series turns out this good, but director Barry Sonnenfeld did just that… twice! Casting, script, direction, and cinematography were all perfect!

Really, you can’t get better than this: the late, great Raul Julia as Gomez Addams, a flamboyant lawyer living with his gorgeous, yet deliciously morbid wife, Morticia (Angelica Houston) in their beautiful, run-down, and sinister mansion. Gomez laments one day to his lawyer-friend, Tully (Dan Hedeya) that he misses his brother Fester, who was lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Owing money to con artist Abigail Craven (Elizabeth Wilson), Tully convinces her to use her creepy-looking step-son Gordon (Christopher Lloyd) to impersonate Fester and lay claim to the vast Addams fortune.

It works! Abigail, posing as a German psychiatrist named Dr. Greta Pinder-Schloss, fools the family into thinking that Gordon is Fester… well, maybe not the kids.  Although Gomez & Morticia are okay with ‘Fester’ being back from the dead, the children, Wednesday (an amazing Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman), aren’t quite sure. Days go by as Gomez tries to reconnect with his ‘brother’, while Abigail tries to get Gordon to find that Addams secret vault full of riches in the house, and the kids playing detective in discovering who this guy really is.

Gordon/Fester, meanwhile, is really starting to enjoy his new ‘family’, as they are as odd and strange as he is. He’s thrown a party, shown the vault of immense wealth, and even helps the kids with a Shakespearean play at school, complete with a hilarious death scene (the highlight of the movie). But all this turmoil between Gomez being so nice to him and Abigail’s cruelty is going to come to a head pretty soon! Will Fester… uh, I mean, Gordon make up his mind whom to follow?

This is just about as wacky and fun as you’d ever want in an Addams Family movie, and more. Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands) and Larry Wilson (Beetlejuice) crafted a wickedly funny and fast-paced script that hit all the marks for fans of not only the comic strip, but the beloved TV series as well. What really sells this movie are the actors and the late Raul Julia is, without a doubt, the best Gomez Addams (next to TV’s John Astin, of course). His manic and devious smile and propensity to fly into a rage is awe-inspiring.

Huston is outstanding with her subtle masochistic love, but this where Ricci shines and became a star. As Wednesday, her hilarious dead-pan delivery is worth the price of admission alone. And Christopher Lloyd as the bumbling bald-headed Fester is perfection. And in the rarest of film cases, the 1993 sequel, Addams Family Values, was even funnier than the original! It’s a shame that the 1998 direct-to-video Addams Family Reunion was so horrifically bad.

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