The Addams Family is one of those cultural icons that lingers on and is reborn for each generation in turn. The ooky, spooky and kooky clan arrived in the late 1930’s thanks to cartoonist Charles Addams and went on to appear in a black and white TV series in the 1960s that christened them “The Addams Family”. This granted us the catchy theme song, two live-action movies in the 1990s starring Angelica Houston as Morticia and Christina Richie as Wednesday, a second TV series and most recently, a musical. I entered The Addams Family (2019) with caution, as I couldn’t help but feel a little cynical that my nostalgia would be sold back to me but, I am happy to say, this was not the case.
The film follows the Addams’ after the wedding of Morticia and Gomez as the newlyweds carve out their own place in the world to raise their family. All is as morbid and strange as one can expect from the Addams clan for 13 years until their peace is shattered by the aggressively spritely and absolutely ruthless home-renovator, Margaux Needler, when she drains the surrounding bog to build a pseudo-fascist utopian village and, in doing so, lifts the fog that concealed the Addams from unfriendly neighbours. On top of this, Morticia and Gomez have to deal with their children coming into their own as the new and not necessarily tradition-respecting generation of Addams’.
I was surprised and impressed to find that The Addams Family essentially gave a kids crash course in some poignant modern issues. Although the addressing of some of these issues, such as diversity, freedom and individuality, was pretty on-the-nose – for example, Margaux’s town is called ‘Assimilation’ and is fitted out with a teen dance troupe singing about the joys of conformity, contrasting blatantly with the Addams family’s characteristic strangeness – this works when you consider the younger target audience, and there was enough subversive, absurdist humour thrown in to make it still genuinely entertaining.
I also enjoyed the inter-family conflict between the Addams parents and children, particularly with the Addams’ youngest son, Pugsley. Seeing Pugsley with a more focal character arc and important role in the story compared to previous Wednesday-focussed adaptations, along with seeing a closer and more complicated relationship between Pugsley and Gomez as they struggle with Gomez’s expectations of his son and himself as a father, made the film that much more emotionally inviting and surprisingly tender.
Arguably, my favourite moment of the film was the plain audacity of Cousin It. I mean, he arrives at the family reunion in a brown Coupe de Ville with a custom number plate, steps out in Rick James red leather shoes with a cane and ruby ring, and is voiced by Snoop Dogg for pure gibberish. Loved it.
The Addams Family, even in its newness, pays its respect to the original content. In a nice touch from the animation crew, the character designs draw directly from the original cartoon works of Charles Addams, whose sharp angles, odd proportions and monochromatic colour scheme are consistently interesting to look at and contrast beautifully with the ‘normal characters’. In a meta moment, The Addams Family also recreates the original 1960’s intro shot-for-shot all the way down to Gomez’s unsettling stare and the sing-along theme. It was an unexpected a-ha moment and something to get stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
My only criticisms of the film are the inconsistent timeline and slightly tone-deaf approach to social media. The world in which Morticia and Gomez get married seems dramatically older, fitted out with torches and pitchforks; however, all are replaced with smartphones and social networks within 13 years. Although calling for realism in a film about a bizarre family living in a haunted asylum with a dismembered hand for a pet may seem a bit ridiculous, the time jump felt jarring and confusing and stuck out to me for the rest of the film. Social media, on the other hand, is regarded in the film with an overly sardonic and exaggerated attitude, such as when one teenaged character seriously laments about not being able to post her lunch after her phone is confiscated. After years of being the demographic these kinds of critiques are targeted at, it starts to get a little grating and felt like it was catering to the older generation who make these jokes rather than the younger audience.
In a surprising twist of fate, the adult-oriented and infamously inappropriate Sausage Party was an influence on The Addams Family. In an interview with Animation World Network, directors, Conrad Vernon, (Bee Movie, Shrek franchise) and Greg Tiernan (Thomas the Tank Engine franchise), said that they met while working on the 2016 film and were conveniently in Vancouver together when they joined forces for The Addams Family.
All in all, the film works well to introduce the Addams’ to a younger generation and provide a good time for those who grew up with them, as well as throwing in some basic but highly relevant social commentary along the way. While I am definitely not the target audience, I left the cinema having genuinely had an enjoyable experience with the film and with enough nostalgia-produced dopamine in my head to make my day. It was, most importantly, a relief to find that my caution was unnecessary and to see the cultural icon of the Addams’ have their story continued with respect, tact and what feels like a real intention to have a bit of fun with it.
The Addams Family is in cinemas now.