“The Addams Family” suffers from an acute case of the cutes.
This latest “Addams” iteration — following in the footsteps of numerous live-action movies, animated TV series, even a Broadway musical — is mildly amusing. But there’s a sugary sweetness about it that makes it seem rather more warm and fuzzy than what we normally associate with the macabre essence of all things Addams.
When you’ve got woeful Wednesday (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) wearing a pink frock at one point and cadaverous Lurch reading “Little Women” in his off hours, it’s all just a bit too precious for words.
As usual, they’re the oddball family unit residing in a ruined manse high atop a fog-shrouded hill (“it’s hideous, it’s horrible, it’s home,” mother Morticia sighs happily), causing consternation to the so-called normal folks living in the suburbs downslope from the place’s gnashing iron gates. (Don’t get too close, normals, or those gates will chomp your fingers off.)
Wednesday sleeps in a guillotine bed, arising quickly each morning and evading the blade that threatens to lop off her braids with nooses at the ends. Younger brother Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) is forever amusing himself with explosives and crossbows. Daddy Gomez (Oscar Isaac) is ever encouraging his son in the kid’s pursuit of creative mayhem while cool, composed Morticia (Charlize Theron), that impossibly spindly but drop-dead elegant black-clad fashion plate, keeps an arch eye on her family’s high jinks.
The best part of this animated picture are the character designs, which directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan patterned after the original Charles Addams cartoons that graced the pages of the New Yorker for 50 years. From Wednesday’s sky-high forehead and deathly pallor to Gomez’s short and portly figure (a significant departure from the dashing figures cut by TV’s John Astin and the live-action movies’ Raul Julia), the picture is certainly visually distinctive.
The directors and writers also clearly had a ball slipping in references to everything from “It” (there’s a red balloon) to Wednesday’s Frankensteinian reanimation of frogs in dissection class.
In terms of plot, the picture feels slapdash with its story of the family’s conflicts with a bossy home-makeover maven (Allison Janney) and its baldly stated message that people should hold off judging others just because they’re different (and in this case really, really strange).
What’s missing and much missed is the sense of the mad passion Morticia and Gomez have for each other. That was the core of the appeal of the 1960s TV series that kicked off the Addams craze. Astin and Carolyn Jones gave the world a wonderful portrayal of a married couple utterly, mutually besotted. They were a joy to watch. Sadly, that passion is much muted in this latest “Addams.”
★★½ “The Addams Family,” with the voices of Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, Allison Janney. Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, from a screenplay by Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler. 87 minutes. Rated PG for macabre and suggestive humor and some action. Opens Oct. 11 at multiple theaters.