The Addams Family

The Addams FamilySynopsis: Weird is Relative.

Looking for something CREEPY…SPOOKY…KOOKY…and altogether OOKY?

Come join The Addams Family for the most hilarious scarefest of this season or any other! When long-lost Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) reappears after twenty-five years in the Bermuda Triangle, Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Anjelica Huston) plan a celebration to wake the dead.

But Wednesday (Christina Ricci) barely has time to warm up her electric chair before Thing points out Fester’s uncommonly “normal” behavior. Could this Fester be a fake, part of an evil scheme to raid the Addams fortune?

Based on Charles Addams’ beloved cartoons and following the success of the hit TV series, The Addams Family is a visual funhouse, packed with plenty of treats, tricks and turns by director Barry Sonnenfeld.

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The Addams Family 7.5

eyelights: Christina Ricci. Christopher Lloyd. Raul Julia. Angelica Huston. the various nods to the original show and cartoons.
eyesores: Hammer’s bastardization of “The Addams Family Theme”. the lack of laughs. the direction.

“Last night, you were unhinged. You were like some desperate howling demon. You frightened me. Do it again.”

‘The Addams Family’ are a cultural phenomenon. Since their debut in Charles Addams’ cartoons, they have graced the silver screen twice, have starred in their own television series four times (twice as live-action, twice in animated form), have had a couple of low-budget films (one straight to video, one for television), a musical, and are the subject of games (the pinball game is the best-selling pinball game of all time!), books and all sorts of other fun stuff.

It’s all very surprising given that the Addams Family is a deeply twisted take on the Nuclear Family, with every single member relishing a veritably morbid lifestyle.

In 1991, The Addams Family made it to the silver screen for the first time with their eponymous debut. It was a massive box office success, and it revitalized the franchise. Suddenly they were everywhere: reruns of the 1960s television series played after school, toys and other film-related products were in all the stores. You simply couldn’t ignore them: if you didn’t know about them before (they were new to me then), you couldn’t avoid a crash course.

I remember adoring the movie when I first saw it; I loved how twisted it was. I don’t remember if I saw the reruns of the TV show first or the movie, but I was floored by how weird and unconventional these people were. And yet they were adorable. Just because they had a penchant for morbidity didn’t mean that they were villainous. To them is was all gits and shiggles: they laughed in the face of death and dug up bodies under the full moon.

I became a fan. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy ‘The Addams Family’  quite as much this time around. It may even have been the time I enjoyed it the least.

I’m not sure what to make of it; Lord knows I was eager to watch it again; it’s not like I wasn’t in the mood. Perhaps it may be due to having watched the original television series far too often in recent years, in that its take on Charles Addams’ famous misfit clan is so eccentric that it’s hard for any other rendition to match it. I suppose that, when I sat down to watch the movie, I was expecting it to mirror the show.

Alas, it didn’t.

For starters, there is the “small” matter of the characters. Whereas the film version more closely resemble the original comic characters physically, the television show imbued them with much more zest and distinctiveness; the film versions are toned down, much more subdued. I’m by no means an expert, but although the characters are not dissimilar there are some clear personality changes that have been made:

Gomez
Whereas John Astin’s Gomez is kooky and loveable, and most certainly mad, Raul Julia’s version is suave, with just a touch of Spanish blood. Julia gave him class, and smoothness, but unfortunately none of the laughs. I also hated that Gomez lost his spirit and became a couch potato when things turned ugly. Even at his most depressed, Astin’s Gomez would never have sunk so low (he’s near-unassailable!) and would soon have come up with some insane plan to change his fortune. Astin’s zeal and maniacal zest for life was sorely missing: this Gomez would be perfect for a quirky drama, but not really for a comedy of this sort.  He looks the part, though.

Morticia
Angelica Houston looks more like the cartoon Morticia than Carolyn Jones did, and certainly gives her a finesse that is terrific. But she is also given less to work with, fewer tricks up her sheer sleeve (i.e. no smokescreens, no fiery fingertips, no strange paintings, no feeding of the carnivorous plants, …etc). Huston actually based her personage on the Edith Bouviers, not Caroline Jones’ Morticia. I think that, had the romance between Morticia and Gomez’ been played up like it was  in the TV series (as it well it should), I’m sure it would have been okay. One of the thing I adore most about The Addams Family is the unwavering love that they have for each other – and the crazy, unfettered passion between Gomez and Morticia. You know that they are simply mad about one another. It’s lovely. As it stands, Houston is excellent, but she’s simply not as disarming as Jones was.

Wednesday
Here’s one casting “win”. While Lisa Lorring was cute on the TV show, she couldn’t deliver a line worth her salt. Christina Ricci, however, is veritably perfect in the part – so much so that she will always be Wednesday Addams to me. She is a severe, plotting, devil child who’s at her best when she is playing with electric chairs and sharp objects. Whereas the original was a naïve, but twisted, sweetheart, Ricci’s version is defiantly dark – Machiavellian, even. And, frankly, I like her best this way. Perhaps this is because the other characters have been so toned down: there had to be at least one maniacal kook in this family!

Pugsley
This Pugsley is less mopey than the original. In fact, he’s almost always content with everything that goes on – even when he’s being tortured by his sister. Life is one big game for him. Either that, or he’s severely brain-damaged. Either way, he’s a great counterpoint to this iteration of Wednesday.

Fester
This is a tough call. I love Christoper Lloyd’s presence. Who wouldn’t? He also looks fantastic in the make-up. The problem is that Jackie Coogan played Uncle Fester with such exuberance that his energy was infectious. Sure, he always did the same gags over and over again, and his voice was whiny, but he was the cartoon character of the piece. Lloyd’s Fester is grim, more thug-like, creepier. He’s also amusing, but by being more sinister we don’t get the impression that all is well with him; he seems troubled. Coogan’s Fester has a joie-de-vivre rivalled only by Gomez, and it’s absolutely lovely. It should be noted that Fester is Gomez’ brother here, whereas in the show he was Morticia’s uncle. Other than to help the plot along, I’m not sure why the filmmakers made this change.

Grandmama
This one is a bit of a trade-off, in that both the film and TV versions look like the cartoon version. Judith Malina does all that is possible with an underwritten part, whereas the TV show version had a lot more screen time and was often integral to plot developments. The movie version could have been left on the cutting room floor with ease. So it’s hard to say who’s best. Of note is the fact that she was Gomez’ mother in the show but is now Morticia’s mom – and her name is different than Morticia’s mom was in the show. Was this merely to bring balance to the family after switching Fester around? Who knows…

Lurch
While this Lurch looks more like the original comic character, he also has less presence than in the show. He doesn’t have the deep, booming voice, doesn’t drag guests’ hats off of their heads, doesn’t grunt and moan with disapproval, doesn’t come to the sound of a gong (and answer “You rang?”), and only plays the harpsichord once (and clearly wasn’t on cue!). So, really, it’s not Lurch as we’ve come to love him.

Thing
This one is a mixed bag. On the one hand (haha!), it’s great that they used CGI to make Thing mobile (’60s technology was rather restrictive in this respect), but on the other the filmmakers used this as an opportunity to make him more slapsticky, having him/it, run around on all fives and get into mischief. The original was tethered to the sets and was awkward, but at least its appearances were measured. So this one I’m on the fence about.

In the end, I suppose that, had the film versions been more like the TV ones, ‘The Addams Family’ would have invariably turned into more of a slapsticky affair, and have required a different breed of actors – more comic than dramatic. Also, I suspect that fans would have compared the actors more. With this cast there was enough distance that you could see The Addams Family in a different light, without entirely going astray. Calculated or not, it works – they’re just not as funny.

In fact, their infectious humour didn’t come through as much as I had expected, and hoped for. The one liners were lame, uninspired (ex: asking Thing to give him a hand, saying that Thing is a handful, …etc). The real laughs come from the morbidity that is juxtaposed with everyday situations. Or from dark humour. All attempts at zingers usually failed miserably. Like most of the writing, the humour was simply not sharp, clever.

At least there were a few nods to the show, such as Morticia,s cutting of roses, Fester’s lightbulb trick, …etc. The rest of the film was littered with awkward exposition and poor set ups throughout, with characters telling each other things they should already know (ex: when Gomez recounts to Morticia how he proposed to her. Ick. As if she needs a recall). It was written by some of Tim Burton’s collaborators, which explains a lot – his films are rarely sharply-scripted.

But the film is generally competent, it looks good, as does the cast, and I like the basic plot – that of Fester’s disappearance and a conspiracy to steal the Addams fortune by putting a lookalike in his place. It’s nothing  original, but it’s perfectly suited to the material, allowing the characters enough room to breathe and to be reintroduced to the viewing public. As far as comedies go, it could certainly have been worse.

My only real issue, aside from the lack of  laughs, is the film’s resolution, which feels like filler material – as though it were tacked on for lack of any inspiration. It doesn’t feel fresh, much like much for the film, actually. This may seem fitting, all things considered, but it’s a darned shame given that these are some of the freshest characters in pop culture – you would think that their kookiness would transcend even the most mundane script, but they simply aren’t the same Addamses.

These Addamses are quite the entertaining family. Make no mistake. But they pale in comparison to the original television series’ iterations; they’re just not kooky, spooky or ooky enough. For fans of the golden oldies, it’s likely that these new ones won’t prove nearly as satisfying. But, as a primer to the world of The Addams Family, this film is a great place to start. But one really needs to see the show, as well as Charles Addams’ deliciously macabre cartoons.

…the art for which will someday adorn my walls, I’ve no doubt.

“They’re creepy and they’re kooky.
Mysterious and spooky.
They’re altogether ooky.
The Addams Family.”

Story: 7.0
Acting:  8.0
Production: 7.5

Chills: 2.0
Gore: 2.0
Violence: 3.0

Date of viewing: September 19, 2013

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