The Addams Family 2 Review: It Takes More To Tango
A tagline on one of the posters for “The Addams Family 2” has delightfully dark daughter Wednesday standing stonefaced next to the words “A sequel. How original.” Perhaps unconsciously, somebody chose that tagline not only because it captures the personality of the Addams’ daughter, but also because originality is one thing the recent, animated reincarnation of the Charles Addams cartoons is sorely lacking. The bottom line: the first film was a mediocre, mildly amusing time-passer, coasting by on our familiarity with the characters — and the sequel is more of the same.
From 1938 New Yorker cartoons to the 1964 classic series with John Astin and Carolyn Jones, from Broadway with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth to the ’90s live-action films with Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston, Gomez and Morticia are rapidly approaching their ninth decade doing the tango together — and with Tim Burton’s “Wednesday” in production for Netflix, the series seems to be as strong (and unkillable) as Lurch the butler. Compared to those productions, it seems as though these early 2020s CG cartoons won’t be mentioned anywhere near the top of the heap.
Somewhere along this decades-long game of telephone, these modern animated films have lost a lot of the gallows humor that once made the Addams family stand apart — and it has been replaced by celebrity voices, poop jokes and reheated material from other, better movies. If you want to get your family in the proper mood for Halloween, don’t be surprised if the memory of this movie lasts about as long as a fun-sized Snickers.
The sequel has our favorite freaky family (well, our favorite freaky family not named the Munsters, anyway) headed on a vacation. Yeah, there are some secondary stories about Grandmama throwing a party while the family is away, a Steve Jobs-like guy (Bill Hader) convinced Wednesday is his daughter, and Fenster turning into an octopus, but that’s pretty much the plot. It’s a road trip, one that gives the Addams clan the opportunity to drive around America in an eccentric haunted RV and experience plenty of fish-out-of-water situations.
Thing does the driving (which explains the craft’s “TALK2THHAND” license plate), and also along for the ride are Gomez (Oscar Isaac), Wednesday (Chlöe Grace Moretz), Pugsley (previously Finn Wolfhard, now Javon Walton), Fester (Nick Kroll) and Morticia (Charlize Theron). They soon encounter a character played by Wallace Shawn, which only serves to remind the viewer how finding the right voice actor can elevate a cartoon — and how this series is made up of vanilla voices that bring little to the table other than big names to put on the poster.
Life's a beach
But this is the type of film where Shawn’s character is set up as the villain — and then vanishes, never to be heard from again. Instead, his mission is escalated to a superior in the form of Bill Hader’s Cyrus, a manipulative tech billionaire villain who is reminiscent of … oh, let’s see, the manipulative tech billionaire villain Jeff Goldblum played in “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” as well as the manipulative tech billionaire villain that Will Forte played in “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.”
It’s always amazing when something like a 90-year-old IP, or a comic book character with hundreds of issues of beloved stories behind them, yields a lazy, uninspired film. Quite honestly, if the team behind “Addams Family 2” had simply taken a couple scripts from the ’60s show, came up with the most basic bookend gimmick to tie them together into a feature-length film (the family looking through a photo album and remembering old times, or something simple like that) and done some polishing around the edges, the result could not have possibly been any more milquetoast than this flick.
One of the more daring elements of these “Addams” films is that Snoop Dogg is the “voice” of the unintelligible Cousin It, which essentially means his velvety voice is sped up, rewound, and remixed to the point where it’s unrecognizable. The gimmick is cute, somewhat reminiscent of that time George Clooney voiced the dog on “South Park,” but in both movies it culminates in It being a famous musician with all the qualities of … Snoop Dogg. Is that funny? Will kids today catch that reference — or another that depicts road signs pointing towards Camp Crystal Lake, Elm Street, and Amityville?
Perhaps this is all too harsh. Many of the scenes with Wednesday (far and away the best part of these films) are dependably amusing, and the most entertaining parts of the movie come when she abandons her family and heads off on a road trip with Lurch by her side. Those scenes are funny and sweet — even if it they do culminate in a biker bar with Lurch singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
Another winning moment occurs when the Addams family visits the Grand Canyon, which becomes ground zero for Pugsley’s pyrotechnics. The Addams boy comes across in these films like a version of Sid from “Toy Story” that you’re supposed to like, and his playful, violent battles with Gomez are reminiscent of Clouseau and Cato in the “Pink Panther” films. Perhaps you’re picking up a theme here — even the good stuff in these movies feels like it was done better elsewhere.
Do you really think for a moment that Wednesday is going to end up leaving the Addams family? Do you really think Fester’s slow transformation into an octopus (the result of an experiment by Wednesday) is going to do anything more than provide a few jokes about ink-staining himself and then get reversed in the end? Is there any sort of story arc to be found in their road trip? This is a film without a story, no stakes, no tension, no reason to care other than the attachment we made decades ago to these characters in other, far better projects. Despite its October release date, it isn’t even a very good Halloween movie — it has nothing to do with the holiday, never attempts any genuine scares, and feels closer to “Tom & Jerry” than “Harold & Maude,” which is the tone any good “Addams” iteration should be striving to hit.
Even some of the mildly edgy elements of the 2019 “Addams Family” cartoon have now been sanded off — gone are Wednesday’s noose pigtails, for instance, without explanation. But still here is Charlize Theron, who sounds like … Charlize Theron. At least Oscar Isaac seems to be doing a voice.
When all is said and done, wasting your time on “The Addams Family 2” is akin to being in denial that there are a hundred other, far better family films to get you and yours in the proper Halloween mood. Here’s hoping that Burton’s live-action series brings back some edge to this family … because as the Addamses are now, they are far from creepy, kooky, mysterious, or even oooky.