From Tim Burton films to Mattel’s Monster High dolls to Disney’s villains, the market for macabre children’s fare shows no sign of dying anytime soon. The Hotel Transylvania movies, TV remakes like Sabrina The Teenage Witch and recent films such as Guillermo de Toros’s Scary Movies to Tell In the Dark, make a strong case too- creepy entertainment appeals to everyone of pretty much every age.
The Addams Family and The Munsters are kind of where it all began. We had Universal monster movies before them of course, but in the ‘60s, both TV shows sought to add a comedic twist to the creepdom. Both were huge hits riffing on the basic premise that these families full of ghouls were just like you and me, with (however demonically driven) similar relationship dynamics and concerns.
Even before Gomez and Morticia came into American TV sets, they captured imaginations as cartoons via artist Charles Addams, who debuted them in New Yorker magazine years prior. The new Addams Family cartoon movie attempts to recreate the angular allure of the cartoonist’s original drawings via computer, and it’s done well, with some fun details and features throughout. From Mo’s tiny corset-cinched waist to daughter Wednesday’s noose knotted braids to Gomez and Pugsley’s bug-eyes, it’s all a treat to ogle. Lurch, the family’s ominous servant is particularly well done, a big lug of a creature who doesn’t need to say a word to steal a scene.
The film is of course, perfect for the Halloween season, a creepy kooky and yes, ooky offering that lends itself to seasonal tie-ins like purple pancakes at IHOP, Cost Plus home decor (there’s a “How Weird Is Your Family” photo contest promo out now) and even nostalgic bids at reinterpreting classic supermarket items: special boxes of General Mills’ childhood faves Boo-Berry, Franken Berry and Count Chocula cereals feature Addams Family characters as Jack-o-Lantern stencil downloads.
Clearly, goths and retro nerds alike have stuff to fiend on here, but the real test will be today’s little monsters. How relatable young modern audiences find these characters will make all the difference because adults into horror and dark aesthetics alone can’t make this one a hit. I know because I’m one of these dark-minded humans and I found the film to be only mildly amusing, with a super-cliched story concerning a home makeover TV host (Allison Janney) out to create cookie-cutter living communities with no soul. The Addams’ haunted mansion up the hill makes for a gloomy eyesore, so the big blonde lady attempts an extreme re-design of their domicile. When that doesn’t work, she makes moves more sinister than anything our freaky family might ever do.
The lameness of cultural conformity was always a recurring theme of The Addams Family, and it was brutally and bitingly devoured in the ‘90s films starring Christina Ricci, Raul Julia and Angelica Huston too, making them classics that stand right alongside the original TV show. In today’s world the pressure to fit in is more relevant than ever. Makeover culture, mob mentality and how over-reaching technology incites both these days are themes that could have been explored better than they are here, however. There are just some clever moments and some cool imagery, but no real laughs or ideas we haven’t seen or heard thousands of times before. Adam Sandler’s Transylvania films work this terror-ific territory in far superior thematic and comedic ways.
One might expect more bodacious blows from directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (the guys behind the naughty, not for kids animated anomaly Sausage Party), not to mention from a cast including heavy hitters like Charlize Theron (turning in a very subdued Morticia), Finn Wolfhard (his Pugley is dim in more ways than one) and a wasted -meaning underused, not stoned- Snoop Dogg as Cousin It. All the casting here, like the film itself, feels too marketing driven, and the latter is obviously an excuse for a bad hip-hop remix of the classic TV show theme song, finger-snaps and all (it’s blasphemy I tell you). The irony of these choices is that a film about individuality becomes anything but, and that may be the scariest thing about this whole affair, fo shizzle.