We laugh a bit, The Flower and I, over Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. She doesn’t remember eschewing The Princess and the Frog to see it, but when I tell her what she said (immortalized on the post above) she says, “That does sound like me.” The main point, I guess, being that as a Dad, you have certain responsibilities and sometimes those responsibilities lead to pain. Which brings us to The Addams Family.
I love Charles Addams drawings, I loved the old TV series, I enjoyed the ’90s movies—first one more than the second, but the second had moments of brilliance with Christina Ricci at summer camp. The marital relationship between Morticia and Gomez is the best TV ever produced, and Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston did justice to that in the ’90s movies.
So you can understand why I wouldn’t want to see this. The thing about movies and books for children is that the truly great one survive for far longer than all but the best works for adults because they deal with basic themes. How many movies from 1939 (sometimes regarded as the best year in filmmaking) has the average person seen? I’m guessing it’s close to one, and that one is The Wizard of Oz. 1938? I’d say close to one again, and that one would be Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. And while I could write at length about this topic, that gets me no closer to talking about this movie.
There is a vast amount of creativity in here. I laughed once or twice, maybe more, but it was always at some throwaway gag that, actually, epitomizes the Addams sense of humor. The original cartoons were single panels and the ’90s movies did a really good job of showing the children (especially) acting out those jokes in a way that would be horrifying played out in real life, and there are a few good glimpses of that here.
This is all absolutely smothered by a story of persecution where Wednesday Addams is a Mary Sue.
We get Gomez (Oscar Isaacs) and Morticia’s (Charlize Theron) backstory—and it’s lifted from Hotel Transylvania, God save us. Fleeing the old country, Gomez and Morticia take up in an abandoned insane asylum which is completely occluded from the village below by a 13-year fog. The village has been taken over by an ambitious renovator Margaux Needler (Allison Janney, and NOT Bette Middler, which was kind of funny because Needler’s demands for hyperconformity sounded to me like Middler’s twitter account) whose plan is to dupe people into living in a perfectly nice (but secretly monitored by Needler) planned community which she runs and profits from.
Having a brooding asylum overshadowing her idyllic town doesn’t fit into her plans and there’s your movie.
Of course, the entire gag of the long-form Addams family is that they skate through normal existence unaware of (or tolerant of) how normality works. They are utterly free from ordinary middle class concerns. Chuck Jones once observed that the Looney Tunes canon was basically populated by hard luck cases: characters for whom things didn’t generally work out. I forget if he was talking about the Bugs Bunny or Road Runner as exceptions, but you could put the Addams Family in that category. They are characters around whom other people go to pieces because the normal rules just don’t seem to apply. And the victims of this, we are inclined to believe, deserve their fates.
But in the most tiresome take possible, here they are victims. Excuse, the second most tiresome take. The most tiresome take being: The Addamses, the most prepossessed family perhaps in the history of Western literature, are saved by their daughter, who manages to instantly pick up (and for unclear reasons defends) a girl pack at junior high and never has an instant of trouble, and whose sole difficulty in life is getting a rise out of her mother.
Full disclosure, I went out to get the Barbarienne more popcorn and I didn’t rush to get back, because the arc of the story was so utterly predictable, down to the point where when she saves the entire collection of essentially super-powered monsters from a few not very angry or difficult to manage townspeople, she does so in a way that any of them could’ve done, but I guess didn’t think to.
I’m not joking about the super-powered monsters thing, either. The B-plot is that Pugsley needs to do a swordfighting thing to be a true Addams, and he’s kind of a slacker (because boys must be in modern films) but he is good at explosives—and ultimately he avoids humiliation and exclusion by using his explosives to save the day, except for the part where Wednesday saves the day (because girls must always save the day in modern films). But in the scene where this is set up, he and Gomez are fighting and literally flying through the air by various means, explosives going off right-and-left.
Sure, some fat people with torches are scary. And what’s the Addams family ever doing being scared?
I’m not unsympathetic to the challenges of making long-form Addams-based entertainment, if one must, and I suppose one must because this movie grossed about $175M on about a $25M budget. (Yeah, $25M is cheap for an animated film these days, and while it looks cheap, except for the color design it mostly doesn’t look bad.) But it really needs to be done with a light touch, because the premise is absurd and meant for one-off jokes. It’s nigh-impossible to do any kind of real drama when everything is inverted, because suffering is good and happiness is bad, and…oy.
It’s a drab, predictable mess with a few points of fun in it. Hopefully, though, the Barbarienne (who is on a 10-year streak of liking every movie she has ever seen) will have grown out of this sort of thing by the time the sequel comes out.