1991: Looking Back At THE ADDAMS FAMILY - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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1991: Looking Back At THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Martin Rayburn is a sucker for the finger snaps...
Over the last 30 years we've seen the resurection and reboot of many classic televsion properties from The Brady Bunch to Starsky & Hutch, Charlie's Angels to The A-Team, Land of the Lost to Get Smart. The result has been a mixed-bag for sure. Whilst likely not the first of these nostalgia fests, Barry Sonnenfeld's 1991 film based on the characters of Charles Addams and the 1964 TV series The Addams Family is certainly one of the better takes.

Sonnenfeld, in what was actually his screen directing debut, created a marvelously looking, scarily Gothic aesthetic to perfectly compliment the picture. The photography, the costume design and the score all contribute to this, but Sonnenfield's touch is the key factor. He creates a feel that is both unique and yet familiar at the same time. Just what one would hope for in a remake of a then near-30 year old series. Fans who grew up with the 1960 TV version of The Addams Family will be instantly reassured by the many cues and nods Sonnenfeld weaves in throughout, whilst the new target market of 1991, who may never had seen the old series, will not be left thinking they're watching some kind of retro throwback thanks to the energy in his direction. Because of this, apart from a few pop-culture references of the day (and MC Hammer, who we will get to), Sonnenfeld's The Addams Family is almost-timeless, ergo it's a film which plays perfectly well now 30 years on.
Casting wise, The Addams Family is almost faultless, and once viewed it's hard to imagine any other actors/actresses of the era cast in the main roles. The Addams family members are especially well cast; Raul Julia makes a perfectly suave and seductive Gomez Adams, and the childlike energy he brings to the character is captivating to watch. Anjelica Huston is a frighteningly sensual Morticia. Clearly born to play this role, she has a sizzling on-screen dynamic with Julia. Their character's demented love and affection is palpable in every scene they share together as the darkly-twisted married couple. Christina Ricci is Wednesday Addams and responsible for some of the funniest moments in the film. Her main occupation consists on tormenting her cooperative brother Pugsley (played with an unsettling calm by young Jimmy Workman) with many instruments, from a knife to an electric chair. Christopher Lloyd absolutely nails the character of Uncle Fester (although I do think he's better served in the sequel).

For me the plot of The Addams Family - mysterious stranger shows up, is he the long lost brother of Gomez? - takes second place to the series of tenuously connected vignettes employed throughout the 99 minutes. These are more akin to the short comic strips of Charles Addams. They are both cleverly and wryly executed, and more than often very funny. Given that the film takes place in what is supposed to be our world and features "normal people" throughout, outside of a brilliant party scene featuring a well-choreographed mamushka knife dance and plays into the plot well, it's these vignettes which set the tone of the picture more than the main story does and sells to the audience just how abnormal, twisted and different the Addams family dynamic is.
A lot of the best vignettes involve Christina Ricci's Wednesday Addams. For instance, when Wednesday passes by Morticia whilst carrying a big knife which she plans to use on her brother, Morticia does the motherly thing and takes it from her, only to then give her a larger one! Utterly unnecessary for anything to do with the plot but perfect to set the family's tone. Wednesday also has some great quips, including asking a Girl Scout if the cookies she's selling are made of real children. Christina Ricci was a relative newcomer at the time, and she really deserves all the praise for her dry delivery and embodying of the character.

So, what doesn't work so well? Moments are occasionally over-explained, as if to reel-in the darkness and keep the film firmly in family territory. Cousin Itt is underused, perhaps that was wise but I wanted more (and thought there was more. The memory often cheats so in my mind the hairy abomination was more present in the film, yet watching it now 30 years on he's little more than a part of a couple of those vignettes), and for some people I can understand how the plot being not as strong as the many inconsequential scenes could be an issue. I'm still happy to die on that hill in defence of this style though, as little moments like Thing working for FedEx are sublime.
I mentioned briefly about some pop-culture references; Sally Jessy Raphael notwithstanding, there's the really poor decision of capitalising on the brief popularity of MC Hammer to provide the theme tune. As we can probably all agree on, the 1960s theme tune for The Addams Family is utterly iconic, so much so that it doesn't need any kind of tampering with. Ever! This is perhaps the biggest mistake in the film, and aside from a couple of slightly suspect CSO moments with Thing, Addams Groove dates the film more than anything else. Plus it's an awful song.

But these are all relatively minor quibbles. The Addams Family looks great, it has a wonderfully strong cast, a very witty script, multiple memorable scenes and throwaway moments. It's a swift watch, never outstaying its welcome, and still works well today as one of the better TV to movie reboots Hollywood loves to churn out. If you're in the mood for some Gothic, twisted fun then The Addams Family won't disappoint.

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