Page to Screen: The Addams Family (1991)


The Addams Family
based on the comics by Charles Addams


1991 • 99 minutes • Paramount Pictures

As a very young and very sheltered military brat in the late nineties and early aughts, my understanding of the pop cultural landscape around me was limited to what my mother watched, my brother played, and scraps of whatever mainstream anime I could get my hands on. But I could still largely match characters to their text of origin. You found Skywalkers in Star Wars, there were Borgs in Star Trek, and Pikachu in Pokemon.

But where did you find Addamses? That was a tougher question to answer, largely because we didn’t have Wikipedia in the nineties. They were definitely in the water, but where did they come from? Much like the Muppets, they appeared, to my sharky little eyes, to be a free-floating creative entity, untethered to any specific show. I mean, there were shows. There was The Addams Family: The Animated Series and The New Addams Family, which I caught glimpses of during my fanatical childhood devotion to Fox Family (rest in peace, you beautiful monster!). And then there were the movies—The Addams Family and Addams Family Values—which I never saw, but knew that they existed. But I’d never heard of the original television show or the original cartoons until college. I think this unsettles me a little bit because I’m otherwise so inured to extensive multimedia franchises, but it’s not like the Addams Family has a coherent story or continuity attached to it like, say, Star Wars.

The Addams Family boom of the nineties began with today’s film, 1991’s The Addams Family. We might complain about unnecessary film reboots these days (Memento? Seriously?), but the nineties hosted their own veritable cornucopia of rebooted sixties television shows—The Avengers, anyone? The Addams Family is no exception: its genesis is a crew of studio executives singing the theme song and realizing that there was still a lot of recognition value in that brand.

But the film doesn’t feel like a cash grab, which might be due to how flexible the Addams Family is as a concept. Rather, it feels of a piece with the other mainstream goth classics of the nineties, like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands—reveling in a very specific iteration of goth aesthetic while also reveling in a gooey emotional center. It’s also a kind of movie that I feel we just don’t see that much of these days—a cartoony, slapstick live-action movie for kiddos, like Matilda. (Looking at every example in that last paragraph, I realize that this might just be because I was most acquainted with live-action children’s movies when I was a live-action child and not an accurate reflection of the current media landscape.)

The main conflict of any piece of Addams Family media is their interaction with normal people, who are largely horrified at their macabre stylings and lifestyle. Although there are some exceptions, like Mrs. Alford, who finds the Addams hearth so homey that she takes the opportunity to become one of them when it comes along. While The Addams Family features plenty of delightful fish-of-water vignettes like the Addams turning up for a school play, its actual plot is about a con artist mother/son team trying to scam Gomez out of his family fortune after the disappearance of Fester many years back. But it’s really an excuse to hang the former on the latter, so the latter can feel paper thin at times.

But the plot’s hardly the point in an aesthetic and comedic exercise like this, is it? It’s moments like Morticia reassuring Wednesday’s teacher that Wednesday will go to college before she starts enslaving men and practicing witchcraft, or Morticia and Gomez’s tango transitioning from a gloomy ballroom to a rowdy party in said ballroom. Everyone in the film is delivering on a very specific and perfectly pitched level, from Raul Julia’s gloriously maniacal Gomez to Anjelica Huston’s prim and perfect Morticia to, of course, Christina Ricci’s tiny and terrifying Wednesday Addams. The whole reason the Addams Family has persisted over the last seventy-seven (!) years is because you want to spend time with these characters.

Anyway, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that Addams Family Values is better, and we’ll get to that next month…

I watched this film on Netflix.

One thought on “Page to Screen: The Addams Family (1991)

  1. Pingback: Page to Screen: Addams Family Values (1993) | The Literary Omnivore

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