Considering how often it’s been done — including a TV series in the 1960s and two movies in the early ′90s — making another version of “The Addams Family” shouldn’t be that hard.
Somehow, though, directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan miss the mark, with a rendition of Charles Addams’ macabre characters that’s the movie equivalent of safe-and-sane fireworks: harmless for the kiddies, but with no sizzle.
The story starts with Gomez (voiced by Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (voiced by Charlize Theron) outrunning a pitchfork-wielding mob to find a new home in an abandoned New Jersey insane asylum. One inmate, the mostly silent Lurch, becomes the family butler. And Gomez’s brother Fester (voiced by Nick Kroll) is a regular visitor, in part because he’s legally prohibited from being in most other places where humans congregate.
The main story picks up 13 years later, as Gomez and Morticia deal with the perils of raising their children. Explosives-obsessed Pugsley (voiced by Finn Wolfhard) is preparing for his sword mazourka, a rite of passage among Addams men, and Gomez fears he won’t be ready. Meanwhile, brooding daughter Wednesday (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) tells Morticia she has grown weary of being “cage-schooled,” so she decides to enroll in junior high in the nearby town of Assimilation.
The town is controlled by Margaux Needler (voiced by Allison Janney), a home-renovation TV host who demands conformity at all costs. She’s particularly hard on her daughter, Parker (voiced by “Eighth Grade” star Elsie Fisher), who befriends Wednesday and leans into her inner goth.
The conflict between the bizarre Addams clan and their so-called “normal” neighbors has been a staple of the franchise’s many incarnations — and also used in everything from “The Munsters” to “Edward Scissorhands.” The contrast works best as a sly commentary on suburban conformity, as writer Paul Rudnick did in “Addams Family Values” (1993), which sent Christina Ricci’s Wednesday to the torture that is summer camp.
The pastel-perfect town of Assimilation should be the optimum environment for satirizing cookie-cutter home ownership and mob mentality. Vernon and Tiernan (who paired on the R-rated animated tale “Sausage Party”) and their screenwriters, Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler, pull their punches, so even Margaux’s most monstrous behavior turns timid by the final reel.
Another example of the defanging of the Addamses is the depiction of Gomez and Morticia. When played by Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston in the ′90s, or even by John Astin and Carolyn Jones in the ′60s, there was a frisky romantic tension — the rare example of an onscreen married couple who still lusted after each other. Obviously, that gets toned down for a PG-rated cartoon, but surely a bit of innuendo can fly in, under the radar but over the kids’ heads. If not, why bother hiring Isaac and Theron, stars with undeniable sex appeal, to provide their voices?
With the kooky, spooky and altogether ooky parts of “The Addams Family” watered down for children’s consumption, what’s left? Some sight gags, a few jokes that land, oddball voice casting (like Bette Midler as Gomez’s mother), and heavy deployment of Vic Mizzy’s classic theme song — over the opening credits, in a final singalong, and in a rap remix over the closing credits. All in all, it’s a ghoulish opportunity gone to waste.
‘The Addams Family’
The familiar family of ghouls returns, in a watered-down animated adventure.
Where • Theaters everywhere
When • Opens Friday, Oct. 11
Rated • PG for macabre and suggestive humor, and some action.
Running time • 87 minutes