Considering it only lasted two seasons in its initial run back in the 1960s, the television version of Charles Addam’s gruesomely enchanting New Yorker cartoon, The Addams Family, has become a powerful pop culture touchstone. It’s a favor that the current animated version amply repays, rife as it is with pop and political references. And all done with the requisite droll wit.Fi
Look no further than our first glimpse of the skeletally elegant Morticia (Charlize Theron’s most imperious voice) as she prepares for her wedding to Gomez (Oscar Isaac channeling the gusto of both of his predecessors, Raul Julia and John Astin). It’s not just any smoky eye she’s going for, it’s a smoky eye created with a dab of her cremated mother. Should one be thinking of Cecily Strong’s joke about Sarah Sanders? I say yes.
After revealing how the Addams came to live in their spooky New Jersey mansion (it’s a former asylum for the criminally insane, of course) when the local Europeans interrupted the wedding with pitchforks and torches, we flash-forward 13 years (further of course). It’s a fraught time for the family. Daughter Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) is feeling the tug of independence with her usual, ahem, deadpan drama and teen ennui, and the longing to discover what lays beyond the man-eating gates of the family compound. Son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) is failing to master the saber mazurka that he must perform in front of the entire Addams clan in order to be launched into manhood, or into fate no one wants to talk about if he fails. And down in the valley below the Addams estate, television DIY goddess Margeaux Needler (Allison Janney) has drained the marshes, lifting the permanent fog and installing a pastel-tinted nightmare of suburban conformity. It’s named Assimilation. (Final of course.)
The point of the franchise has always been to make sport of the foibles of the so-called normal world by contrasting it with the Ur-Goths that inhabit the Addams alternate universe, and this is no exception. When Wednesday first claps eyes on the interior of a public middle school, she notes, not incorrectly, that it’s a prison. As for Margeaux, her essence as a blonde bouffant of pure evil is revealed even before she is shoes daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher) away rather than actually parent her. Never mind the mean-girl cheerleaders with aggressive smiles who sing the praises of being just like everyone else. THE LEGO MOVIE? Oh, yeah.
The writing is as crisp as it is arch, celebrating being different and the simple joys of family values (Addams-style) without ever reverting to the sort of sugary excess that would make the clan gag. Instead there is a refreshing, further ahem, bite to the father-son horseplay that involves missiles and hand-grenades, and the filial devotion Morticia displays during a traditional tea-and-séance with her dead parents (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) who display an irresistible schtick as they dispense parental advice and absent-minded bickering. Equally irresistible is the revelation about Thing’s kink; Lurch’s singing voice; the house itself, whose murderous tendencies towards its denizens can be tempered with coffee; and Ichabod, the sentient, if dead, tree with prehensile branches and a can-do attitude.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY is a fine trip down memory lane for adults, and a neat joy ride for kids.