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While it is might be better known for its mid '60s sitcom and early '90s live-action movies, The Addams Family first found its unholy life on the page. Created as a series of cartoons for The New Yorker, Charles Addams' eerily eccentric animated family has always cracked with an absurd wit and dazzlingly demented sense of humor that is often punctuated in its animated form. At least, that was the case until directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan turned the demented dynasty into a bafflingly bland crossbreed mix of Despicable Me and Hotel Transylvania with their drearily dull CG reboot.

Serving as a prequel of sorts, The Addams Family (2019) follows patriarch Gomez Addams (a wonderfully cast, but sorely underutilized, Oscar Isaac) and matriarch Morticia Addams (Charlize Theron) as they welcome both wedding bells and flaming fire balls when they decide to wed in the middle of the night outside of their disapproving town. Trying to find a place where they will be accepted as themselves, the Addams unwittingly find themselves in front of an abandoned mansion, filled with creeping rats, hideous spiders, a foreboding voice shouting for them to leave and all sort of other creepy and kooky sights and sounds. Naturally, it's perfect. Over the course of 13 years, the ostracized Addams turn into a family of four, with Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) rounding out the household. It's an odd-but-quaint life on the hill — until they meet their neighbors.

At the bottom of their dark and looming hillside quarters, there is a blooming and soon-to-be fostering town of bright-eyed residents build by reality TV mogul Margaux Needler (Allison Janney). In this community called Assimilation, the greedy and power-hungry TV personality is hoping to turn the new town into a camera-friendly, extravagant real estate location before she sells off more houses.

But there's one big hurtle: the Addams Family mansion sticks out like a sore thumb, and she fears that their dark, dreaded presence will scare away any potential buyers. So Margaux tries to renovate their house, but that's not going to work when the Addams are soon expecting their assorted family of oddballs and degenerates to arrive in two weeks' time to celebrate Pugsley's joyous Mazurka celebration, for which the young boy isn't quite ready. Meanwhile, Wednesday develops a rebellious side.

The thin story, as it is presented here, is basically a loose means for which directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, alongside screenwriters Matt Lieberman (The Christmas Chronicles, the upcoming Scoob!) and Pamela Pettler (Corpse Bride, Monster House), can unleash their series of strange antics surrounding the quirky family's love of mayhem, destruction, anarchy and nearly anything wicked and foul. There's nothing particularly wrong with that. The macabre humor has always been the centerpiece of the Addams Family's wayward appeal, and this film revels in their destructive side.

But the humor in this latest go at The Addams Family often feels indecisive, trying to merge the gap between the more high-energy pacing of recent animated affairs like the type of movies prove to come from Illumination Entertainment, DreamWorks Animation and, occasionally, Sony Animation, and the more dry and cheekily dark sense of humor that felt more natural and honed in Barry Sonnenfeld's more deprived and gleefully reprobate live-action movies. This inconsistency results in a reboot that never finds its own identity. Even when Sonnenfeld's original movies were copying from Tim Burton's manic late '80s style, they still crackled with a ferocious sense of poppy sensationalism that never feels organic or nearly as amusing in this animated reboot.

It's notable that The Addams Family comes from the directors of Sausage Party, because similar to that bombastic and irreverent (but ultimately more interesting and intriguingly deprived) movie, The Addams Family bounces between genuinely inspired visual gags (as well as silly, twisted puns) and tediously prodding, overly crude and sophomoric antics. Their Addams Family doesn't get quite as obscene as Sausage Party, as you expect, but its lack of edge and consistent cleverness is ultimately its greatest hindrance. There's just not enough here to make it a noteworthy success or failure.

It's an unfortunately shallow effort, and one that weirdly (and rather unfortunately) only takes certain liberties with its animated form. What should be the biggest appeal with making an animated Addams Family movie is a chance to make the absurdly morbid pranks and goofy, rambunctious antics even more outlandish and over-the-top thanks to the lack of limitations that come from the animated form.

While there are a few times where the team takes advantage of these opportunities, including a delightful frog revitalizing scene and some bombastic sequences involving explosives, there's very little in terms of its visual approach that really relishes the possibilities of making something wonderfully bizarre or true to Charles Addams' vision. It quickly becomes apparent that an animated Addams Family movie would be much more beneficial and effectively eerily if it were in stop-motion form.

Alas, we're left with yet another mediocre slice of family entertainment that never quite captures the heart and smarts of its original source material. It's an underwhelming effort, filled with a few punchy gags and some great casting choices, but it ultimately feels empty and derivative of some of the other animated movies that have come out throughout the last decade. It lacks the charm and pulpy fun that came so readily from other, much better takes on this material, and it has little to make it feel distinctive or new.

When it comes to this retooled Addams Family, it sadly never snaps into place. And it's never quite as creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky and all together ooky as it could be (or outright should be). It is a desolate animated affair.

5 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five

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