The Addams Family (1991)

MAY 4, 2011


I saw The Addams Family once or twice when it first hit VHS (nearly 20 years ago!), but wasn’t a big fan. When the sequel came along I liked that one a lot more, but never owned a copy so I haven’t seen THAT one in ages either. But I’m doing another Chiller special, and this one focuses on creepy children, one of which is Wednesday Addams (played by Christina Ricci), so they sent me a copy of the first (not the second, dammit!) to re-familiarize myself with it so that I could make a few good quips. But I think I failed to do so, because it’s really not a very good movie.

I’ve never seen a single frame of the original TV show, so perhaps it was just being incredibly faithful, but after a while the basic joke got stale – someone would say something awful, and an Addams family member (sometimes the one who said the first part) would express some sort of pleasure in that terrible thing. Every now and then they flip it, like when Morticia is mortified by a little girl idolizing Jane Pauley (“Have you spoken to her parents?”), but for the most part it’s just variations on the lines you saw in the trailer, when Morticia says Gomez was an animal the night before, and how it terrified her – “do it again!”. It just gets kind of obvious, like if you watch a dozen 30 Rock episodes in a row you can instantly spot when they’re about to make a strange joke about a celebrity. In small doses it’s probably a lot of fun, but in a 100 minute movie, they need to branch out more than they do here.

It doesn’t help that the plot is convoluted and yet dull. There’s a guy pretending to be Fester, hired by the Addams’ own lawyer, who tries to scam them out of their inheritance, but after a while the impostor starts to actually like the family, and then you find out he really IS Fester, as he’s just been brainwashed... and the whole time I’m just wondering when Fester left in the first place. They changed his basic identity from the TV show (where he was Morticia’s uncle, here he is Gomez’ brother), so it’s not a plot point from that as far as I can tell, so the whole disappearance thing is kind of clunky. And having both the lawyer and Fester’s “mother” as villains is too much; they didn’t really need the Dan Hedaya character at all.

Plus, it takes too long to get the movie’s best parts, which is the Addams’ attempts to “fit in”, i.e. going to school plays, trying to get jobs, and things like that. Obviously I took a shine to the play, with its geysers of blood spraying onto the horrified, unsuspecting audience, but I also liked that Gomez became a couch potato, harassing Sally Jesse Raphael and worrying about missing Gilligan. It’s in these scenes that the humor tends to be spot on, but for a good chunk of the time (the entire first act and some change, really) the movie is little more than a series of stand-alone bits with the family inside their own house. The scene where Wednesday shoots at Pugsley with a bow and arrow comes and goes out of nowhere, and others follow suit. Not that these bits are without their merits – I particularly liked the “Uncle Knick Knack” gag – but by the time the actual plot kicks in, I was already starting to grow tired of the shtick.

The finale also blunders by not including Wednesday and/or Pugsley. The movie seems to be aimed at a younger audience, so why they would leave out that audience’s big draw for such a significant part of the movie is beyond me. The sequel rectified this by giving them the awesome summer camp/Thanksgiving play subplot AND having them aid in the rescue of Uncle Fester at the end, but it’s a shame they didn’t have the foresight to give them as much to do here. I wonder if those random stand-alone gags were the result of late-game decisions when someone realized that they weren’t in the movie enough. The bit where they giggle as they hope to get electrocuted is actually kind of creepy - definitely could have used more of that sort of thing.

From a visual standpoint the movie is certainly a success. This was Barry Sonnenfeld’s first feature as a director after a long career as a DP, and thus every single shot in the movie is worthy of using on a trailer. The production design is particularly wonderful (the house should be used as a haunted house for some theme park), and even though blacks/browns/grays certainly have a strong presence, it’s quite colorful as well. The actors are all terrific as well; Christopher Lloyd’s energy is always welcome, and Raul Julia is charming as hell. It’s easy to see why they replaced Granny with Carol Kane for the sequel though; the actress here isn’t bad, but she doesn’t really pop like everyone else. Just a shame the script was beneath the talents on both sides of the camera.

The only extra on the DVD is a pair of trailers. Yes, this means there’s no video for the Hammer theme song (you can look at that either as a good thing or a bad thing, I guess). But I’m surprised by the lack of a real special edition; the movie was a huge hit, and there is a wealth of material to draw from – comparisons to the show (or comic strips), the construction of the house, how it sort of kick-started a “franchise” of TV shows turned into movies throughout the first half of the 90s, etc. Plus Sonnenfeld usually does commentaries for his movies; he even did one for Big Trouble, and that’s his only major bomb (yes, Wild Wild West, terrible as it may be, actually made some money). Weird. But maybe nowadays Paramount feels the same way I do; it’s a perfectly decent time-killer, but not worth fussing over.

What say you?


  1. Blasphemer. How dare you disparage this staple of my childhood!

    I have nothing but fond memories of the movie itself. But I haven't watched in in over 15+ years, so memory has undoubtedly improved it.

    Irregardless of content, the casting itself was perfect. Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia are the Addamses to me. :D

  2. I was not a big fan of the TV show. I was more of a "Munsters" kind of guy.

  3. Damn BC, you reminded me how much more I liked the second film. It's the better of the two and would have been good ammo in a recent BAD discussion about good comedy sequels. Oh well, I still had Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey to back me up.

  4. I remember seeing this opening weekend and having the sinking feeling that it's terrible but everyone is going to go crazy over it.

    No, it is not like the TV show. The TV show has a light, airily eccentric tone completely missing from this obvious, heavy, plodding mess. "Thing" is a case in point. Here he/it is all over the place, whereas in the TV show a hand simply pops out of a convenient box at odd moments, to pick up the phone or deliver a letter, for example, and Morticia says a cheerful "Thank you, Thing." I think they confused the "spice" for the "meat."

    I *did* enjoy the sequel, though. It didn't seem quite as overblown.


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