In a perfect world, Charles Addams would rise from the dead, appalled at the goings on in The Addams Family 2, leaving his estate the comforting task of reburying him. But we live in an imperfect world, divided by class, taste, and family values which are out of step with those of the original Addams family. Charles will remain underground, his back to the evening sky, avoiding the hell out of this vapid, antiseptic tank of a film-for-all-ages. The Addams Family 2 perpetrates the worst sin, turning the seditious whimsy of his original New Yorker cartoon into a children’s film.
But it is a children’s film, you say? Well, The Addams Family has always provided an alternative to feel-good, very special programming, Chas Addams slipped a demon in lowest common denominator. Addams’ family cartoons wore darkness on their sleeves unabashedly. Strangeness is alien, irreverence is a given, and sensitivities are open wounds screaming for salt.So why is this movie so precious?
In the sequel to 2019’s animated adaptation of the Addams’ and their continuing exploits, Gomez (voiced by Oscar Isaac) takes the family on the road, traveling from Salem, Massachusetts, to Death Valley, the source of all happiness in America. Morticia (voiced by Charlize Theron) promises that the family will explore the many dark secrets of the country, but they barely explore even the sleepiest of hollows. They actually spend time at the beach. Granted, Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) is slowly turning into a giant squid, and clears the dunes by wearing a shark-fin swim suit. But still. The beach?
The family is also on the run from a mysterious man, voiced by the mischievous Wallace Shawn with his own very own overgrown henchman, one of two bookends for Lurch (Conrad Vernon). The man claims Wednesday Addams (Chloë Grace Moretz) was switched at birth, and should come home to her real family. This is discovered during the opening Science Fair sequence, where everyone gets first place because there are no losers. The fair’s sponsors don’t want to make anyone feel left out. But even though the Addams family point out how there can never be a winner without a loser, the film also coddles and toddles its audience. No one will be offended by any joke.
The family dynamic is also upset since there is far too much Addams in-fighting in The Addams Family 2. The Addams are supposed to only be contrary to the outside world. They are supposed to be indulgent of each other to the point of horrible enabling. They should be encouraging the traits which good citizens find distasteful, disgusting, or indictable. It’s one thing to have Wednesday use the force of a voodoo doll to toss Pugsley (Javon “Wanna” Walton) to, fro, and over Niagara Falls to an almost certain death. That’s just fun and games as long as someone loses an eye. But to have her judge her brother and Uncle Fester with anything less than utter respect for their wildest delusions is very un-Addams.
Similarly, when Cousin It, voiced by a backwards-masked-audio Snoop Dogg, reveals a harrowing hairless phase, it is transformed into a kumbaya moment. This kind of sentimentality is something specifically sneered at in Addams Family Values (1993), and Snoop might have to spend time in the Happy Hut as penance. It is empowering to “own who you are.” This is the center of the Addams’ philosophy, but only for nefarious purposes. A real Addams, at this point in history, should embrace the ironic power of renting who you are, and skipping out on the lease. At least Granny, voiced by Bette Midler, is making illicit cash and getting first responders drunk.
The film tries too hard to mine the macabre for untold jokes but is stuck within a small parameter of options. It’s like playing in a sandbox when it should be diving head first into a kiddie pool. There should be humor which goes over the children’s heads. This has been a tradition since Popeye snuck sailor talk in between gags. Cartoon humor can even go over the adults’ heads; it’s easier to measure them for a guillotine that way as they look up. Addams’ cartoons, and the best films and TV show they’ve inspired, consistently skate on the edge of permissible subjects for even the most impolite society. Populated by commonplace sociopaths, and irredeemable temptations, they dangle danger like tinsel on a holiday tree. Yet there is more peril in a “Roadrunner and Coyote” cartoon than in The Addams Family 2.
Ironically, the subplot about Wednesday being switched at birth could have been an Addams panel. Any danger to a group of defenseless infants would have sat proudly on the pages of The New Yorker magazine. Fester also scores a tasteless giggle with a line about already ordering chicken when asked about children. Besides that, the creepiest subliminal gag comes when it is implied Ophelia, the character who may have been switched at birth with Wednesday, might be Pugsley’s real sister. His heart beats as if in love.
The music is serviceable, but generic. “I Will Survive” could be in any animated film. There is nothing really Addams-y in many of the set pieces, except dressing the family up to fit into a rodeo theme because they are a little early for Halloween.
The visual aspect of The Addams Family 2 is at least impressive. Gomez has never been rendered so unattractive, which better suits the intent of the character. The world and settings are imbued with a mixture of malevolence and malicious wit. This and Bill Hader voicing the villain are the high points of the film. Hader is an amazing voice artist; his throat is just as animated in live-action comedy as it is to suit an over-the-top mad scientist.
The other voice talent is perfectly fine. Isaac purloins Raul Julia’s inflections for his take on Gomez while Nick Kroll impersonates Jackie Coogan’s Fester from the 1960s TV sitcom. Theron occasionally lets her accent slip through while voicing Morticia, but Moretz channels Christina Ricci’s Wednesday like it’s any other Tuesday.
Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, The Addams Family 2 is kid stuff. It is aimed at an audience so young, you would avoid warm water near them in a swimming pool.
The Addams Family 2 will be available in theaters and on VOD on Oct. 1.