Tolstoy got it right when he said, “Every family is unhappy in their own way.” The Addams Family, for one, revel in their unhappiness. Ever since they were presented as comic strips in The New Yorker, audiences have delighted in watching the macabre family sulk through their daily routine. Whether wandering in their haunted house or scaring the neighbors, you could always count on the crew to deliver the laughs. Until now. In the animated version from United Artists, they’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky, and altogether bland. 

The animated ‘Addams Family’ isn’t the end of the world, not even for die-hard fans. But it is the end of the line for the franchise’s wit, which many grew accustomed to through the 1960s show and Barry Sonnenfeld’s big-screen adaptations. What does remain in 2019 is the message. At first glance, the Addams Family looks like a bunch of extras from black and white horror movies. At second glance, and after you get to know them, they’re just like everyone else. The only difference is, their dark side is on the outside instead of the inside. 

Not everyone is on board with the “It’s okay to be different” mindset. After having been run out of town with pitchforks and torches (what else?), Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) become nomads with nowhere to go. So, they go somewhere no human being would be caught dead in– New Jersey! That’s where they find an abandoned house on a hill, one with perpetually poor weather (grey skies and lightning 24/7), and where they take in a stowaway who looks an awful lot like Frankenstein. 

Thirteen years later, two adorably loathsome kids have been added to the mix. Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. An event that comes with lots of pressure and swordplay, as well as a scrapbook of extended family, Pugsley is worried he won’t be ready in time. That’s the least of Wednesday’s worries. The little girl with nooses for ponytails (Chloe Grace Moretz) is questioning life itself. She’s doing her best Bergman impression, and she’s easily the best part of the movie. 

She’s also the link between the Addams Family and the town at the bottom of the hill. The town is called Assimilation where, in an attempt at speaking to the moms in the crowd, the villain is an HGTV-esque host named Margaux (Allison Janney). Somehow Margaux built an entire city of gentrified homes without noticing the looming Victorian, which doesn’t bode well for her “everything must be the same” image. And when Wednesday befriends her outcast daughter, she labels the Addams Family as “freaks” after rejecting her home makeover. 

Directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon have tried to give the source material a contemporary makeover, but have only added blemishes. The animated characters look and sound as they always have, and the animation will give kids all the over-the-top subplots and side characters they could dream of. A tree moves its branches on demand; the kids fly on rockets and throw knives at each other; a mob of family members includes a talking head of hair (Snoop Dog) and a snot-nosed Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll). It’s just not particularly clever. For a film that’s sole purpose is to teach youngsters the asininity of assimilation, “The Addams Family” does a lot of borrowing from better movies. 

You already know the drill for kids’ monster movies: they give children all the silly slapstick they can take, while the adults get not-so-subtle callbacks to classics like “Frankenstein” and “Invasion of the Body Snatcher.” However, everyone gets a not-so-dumb lesson on the importance of being ourselves. It’s a formula that’s worked before. Adam Sandler has pulled it off three times as Count Dadula in the “Hotel Transylvania” series. Why it doesn’t work here is the script. 

It’s strange that Tiernan and Vernon didn’t take screenwriting duties. Responsible for the irresponsible–yet hysterical– “Sausage Party,” the directors leave it to the inexperienced Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler to supply the wordplay. Boy, do they ever… Brace yourselves for a witches brew of bad puns. One side character is wearing a watch with a human eye, to which another says, “Look! It’s an eyewatch!” It gets worse. When a zillion spiders form a bridge in the basement, Morticia exclaims while walking across, “We’re surfing the web!”

Long ago, audiences marveled at how alive this deadly pale family really was; how happy this unhappy-looking family could be. Don’t worry, the Addams Family is still happy. It’s the fans who aren’t so lucky. C-