There’s a new Addams Family movie coming out in a few months. I’ve been rewatching the old 90s Addams Family, though I’m not sure if I’m going to see the 2019 film. I also watched some of the 60s Addams Family, to compare some of the episodes of the 90s show that were based on episodes of the 60s show. I also looked at a few of the original comics, which appear to be primary inspiration for the 2019 film, but they’re all single panel gags that don’t lend themselves to the level of characterization you get out of a movie. All of this has got me thinking about what makes the Addams Family work (and it doesn’t always, the Addams’ have had their share of duds).
One thing that I don’t think has ever been messed up is that by default the Addams are completely functional. Although the family often becomes dysfunctional as a source of conflict, their default state is one of love and acceptance contrasted against macabre mayhem. That’s the fundamental joke of the Addams Family: That they express wholesome 60s sitcom family values through the medium of a horror/slasher flick.
Something that’s important and occasionally gotten wrong is that the Addams Family don’t go out looking for trouble. The neighbors, bureaucrats, and other pastel-colored normal people who walk into the Addams estate are often the targets of comic terror and violence. Just like Bugs Bunny can never go after someone or else he comes across as a bully, the Addams Family need to be minding their own business in their estate when the outside world comes knocking. Now, the Addams’ are also enthusiastic hosts, so you could imagine them intentionally inviting people into their house, but while this would be in character, it would make the Addams Family the villains. Fester and Wednesday get more leniency on this than the rest of the family, especially Wednesday, but even their schemes should be more retaliatory than belligerent.
Something that is usually gotten right, but which I could see the 2019 film messing up, is that Gomez is neither the hero nor a buffoon. When the situation calls for it, Gomez is a swordsman and an acrobat, ready to fight for his family with fundamentally the same skill set as Zorro. This action hero side of Gomez is neither reliably effective nor comically inept. Gomez’s penchant for romantic violence rarely saves the day, but it can stall for time or provide distraction and he looks good doing it.
Gomez and Fester bring madcap violence to the family, especially Fester. Gomez is often shown doing things like building model train sets so he can then cause tiny model catastrophes, but Fester blows up actual, real buildings. Grandmama Addams’ place in the family tree has been inconsistent, but she’s usually pretty assertive and violent, which makes her more at home on Gomez’s side. Morticia’s side is distant and calculating. Morticia encourages carnage and violence, but almost never directly participates. Lurch and Thing are not directly related to the family, but they are much more firmly on Morticia’s side of this spectrum, stable anchors despite their ghoulish mannerisms.
Wednesday is a blend of the two. Although originally she was an adorable sadist, her steady evolution into monotone, calculating, and vengefully evil genius has made her probably the most compelling character of the family. Wednesday is the most dangerous member of the family, and is the one most likely to escalate the stakes in act two (i.e. things were bad enough, but now Wednesday is plotting a murder) and to resolve the conflict in act three (i.e. Wednesday has murdered the problem). Pugsley plays an important role as default victim to her sadism and henchman to her plot-relevant schemes, but I don’t really feel like he has much to do except be Wednesday’s Igor and I think that’s a place where the Family could use some expansion.