Idiosyncratic cartoonist Charles Addams’s signature creation might be creepy, kooky, altogether ooky, etc., but the new animated feature “The Addams Family” isn’t particularly mysterious. It’s clear why the big-screen ’toon exists: to tell both nostalgists and “Hotel Transylvania” newbies that there’s still life in these characters five decades after their TV-sitcom run, and some 80 years after Addams’s single-panel print gags debuted. Insert image here of a studio exec triumphantly howling, “It’s alive!” with dollar signs in his eyes and an “Addams” billboard spewing lightning in the background.
This latest take might make for passable Halloween-season viewing, but it works too hard to assert its ghoulish brood’s relevance, while somehow also struggling to find enough to say. Directors Conrad Vernon (“Shrek 2,” “Madagascar 3”) and Greg Tiernan deliver a movie that barely sniffs 80 minutes, much of which is devoted to belabored if affirmational messages about social differences and acceptance. The filmmakers and a nifty cast give the characters some clever, amusing flourishes — it’s definitely diverting seeing the Addamses rendered in state-of-the-art animation, given their cartoon origins — but it ultimately isn’t enough to keep the mood from turning dull.
Persecuted in the old country, Morticia (Charlize Theron), Gomez (Oscar Isaac), Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll, FX’s “The League”), and an especially dexterous Hand relocate to New Jersey (where else?) and an abandoned asylum that’s just their style. Heck, the place even comes with its own inmate/butler, Lurch (director Vernon), and plenty of room for new family arrivals Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz, always good at blasé) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard, “Stranger Things”).
Neighborly dynamics turn tricky, though, when a TV home-improvement guru (Allison Janey) who’s developing an adjacent master-planned community (think Disney’s Celebration) decrees the Addamses are too “off brand” to stay. Bad timing, considering that Morticia and Gomez have their hands full with Wednesday’s unicorn-accessorizing rebelliousness and Pugsley’s sabres-and-scripture coming-of-age ceremony. Plus, they’re hosting a houseful of guests — everyone from Grandma (Bette Midler) to Cousin It (Snoop Dogg, lending new meaning to “hair of the dog”).
Anjelica Huston and company’s live-action “Addams” franchise of the early ’90s found success by following the TV series’ lead and diving into madcap complications while letting the family’s macabre nature speak for itself. Here the cast’s flair for vintage sitcom-style punch lines — and contemporarily inventive touches such as an angsty montage set to R.E.M. — are too often smothered rather than built upon by the blunt pursuit of Big Themes. You can tell from all the oddball minutiae — Gomez’s pulled-tooth cuff links, say, or Wednesday’s noose-shaped braided pigtails — how the filmmakers are striving for fun worthy of the “Addams Family” legacy. But this incarnation just isn’t the scream that it could be.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY
Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan. Written by Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler. Starring Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Allison Janney, Bette Midler. Boston theaters, suburbs. 87 minutes. PG (macabre and suggestive humor, some action).