Movie Review: “The Addams Family” animates a cartoonist’s warped sense of humor

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It’s daft, but not nearly daft enough.

The guys who made Seth Rogen’s “Sausage Party” directed the new animated “The Addams Family,” but there’s little of that anarchy here and (thankfully) none of the vulgarity.

MGM/UA and Vancouver’s Cinesite animation studio made the classic blunder of casting big names — TWO Oscar winners — instead of funny voices for their characters. So Charlize Theron’s slinky turn as Morticia and Chloe Grace Moretz’s deadpan take on Wednesday don’t work without them on camera, trying to top Anjelica Huston and Christina Ricci.

And the things an adult finds amusing in this latest big screen version of “The Addams Family” aren’t the ones the little kid audience it’s intended for will giggle over. It’s got more than a hint of New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams’ look about it. Most of the voice actors take a shot at mimicking the performers in the 1990s Barry Sonnenfeld films, starring the irrepressible Raoul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci, which only pays off in Oscar Isaac’s amusing Latin lover version of Raoul Julia’s version of Gomez.

But if you’re pressed for something to do with children who love going to the movies, I have to say it’s funnier than “Abominable,” even if the animation (by the Vancouver Cinesite Studios) doesn’t have that Dreamworks polish or heart.

And who among us can resist that finger-snapping theme song, the one Tin Pan Alley veteran Vic Mizzy composed, so very long ago, for the black and white TV series that made “The Addams Family” the touchstone Gothic farce it remains to this day?

This take on the tale gives us the origin story, takes us back to the Old World wedding of Morticia (Theron) and Gomez (Isaac), nuptials interrupted by cries of “MONSTERS” from villagers wielding pitchforks and trigger happy with their catapult.

The newlyweds must find somewhere just as “horrible” and “awful,” perhaps a tad more tolerant. New Jersey it is. That’s where Thing (A disembodied hand, remember?), their driver, runs over Lurch, and they discover their future butler’s been living in an abandoned asylum. Home sweet home!

Everything’s gloomy and decaying, just the way they like it, as they have two murderously competitive kids, morbid, morose Wednesdsay (Moretz) and explosives fan Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard).

“They blow up so fast!”

Then a development overseen by a cable TV home makeover queen (Oscar winner Allison Janney) drains the swamp that gives the place its lovely murk and fog, and the Addams — with a big family gathering coming up — have to make nice with the suburbanites who’ve moved into “Assimilation,” where the town choir sings “It’s easy to be happy when you have no choice!”

A clever line? Gomez wanders into the quaint planned community diner — “Enjoy your cuppa Joe, or whoEVER you have in there!”

A funny running gag, cribbed from the TV show? Lurch (often “conducted” by Thing) sets the mood at the ancient pipe organ, inventing the theme song, riffing through “Green Onions,” “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and a cover of a certain R.E.M. ballad.

One great scene? That would be with Wednesday, who no longer wants to be “cage schooled” and heads to junior high where frog dissection day becomes a tribute to James Whale’s “Frankenstein.” That’s an absolute stitch. Ahem.

This “Family” needed a lot more moments like those, a zanier voice cast (Nick Kroll’s not bad as Uncle Fester) and more of the bug-eyed, wrong-headed enthusiasms — financial and martial to parental and romantic — of Gomez, always the key to versions of this endlessly reincarnated franchise.

Little kids will snicker and snap their fingers in time to the tune. Parents? You might might grin at the nostalgia of it all, an inventive moment or two, but little else.

2stars1

 

MPAA Rating: PG for macabre and suggestive humor, and some action.

Cast: The voices of Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac, Chloe Grace Moretz, Snoop Dogg, Allison Janney, Titus Burgess,  Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Bette Midler.

Credits: Directed by Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon, script by Pamela Pettler and Matt Lieberman, based on characters created by Charles Addams. An MGM release.

Running time: 1:27

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