The Addams Family is a fun update to an iconic American clan
Dating back to 1938, the Addams Family is one of the most influential American pop culture families of the past hundred years. They debuted the same year as Superman, and they even rival him in terms of the indelible mark they’ve left upon culture. Their start was classier than that of the Man of Steel, first appearing in single panel comics in The New Yorker, but they have also been adapted into just about every medium in existence at one point or another. Not only that, but they are a major influence on the goth subculture, and endure as icons even when they are not actively represented in media.
This new film is the first animated feature to star the ‘mysterious and spooky’ family, and establishes a new status quo without feeling like a full origin story. Opening with a prologue about the wedding of Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) in which the Addams clan is evicted from the old world, the newlyweds decide to relocate to New Jersey. A few years later, their daughter Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) is curious about the outside world, and their son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) prepares for a rite of passage to manhood. Gomez’ brother Fester (Nick Kroll) arrives early to help Pugsley prepare, as does his mother (Bette Midler). When the swamp near their Victorian mansion is filled in to build an idyllic new town, the Addams come into conflict with television home makeover star Margaux Needler (Allison Janney).
This origin casts the Addams family as an immigrant story, and the film leans so hard into the theme of accepting those different from us and valuing diversity over conformity, that even children will likely pick up on it in ways that more sophisticated theming might pass them by. And that’s not a bad thing. The Addams family has often been used this way before, and much of their charm comes from the fact that despite their unorthodox appearance and activities, they embody the American family values of love, kinship, and open-mindedness as a contrast to the more conventional people they meet.
The film balances the push-pull between vignette and central narrative very well, and the pace is brisk enough where nothing overstays its welcome. Amazingly, for a film that is a full on cartoon, embracing its unreality in ways we rarely see from Pixar or Disney these days, it recognizes that less is more. There’s so many fun things just sprinkled throughout the film which makes it a fun watch because it’s constantly surprising the audience with new things to take in. The humor is nicely balanced, embracing physical comedy and sly references to everything from Watchmen to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
For a new film of a property as iconic as The Addams Family to be so focused on entertaining its audience while retaining what makes it iconic in the first place is exactly what is needed. It’s a worthy diversion this Halloween season, especially for families.
The Addams Family opens in Philly theaters today.