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Review: The Addams Family (1991)

The Addams Family (1991)

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Premise: An adaptation of the 1960s television show. A con artist pretending to be long lost Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) tries to scam an eccentric family of their millions.

What Works: The feature version of The Addams Family is a very good adaptation of a television series. The film retains what was integral to the original TV show while expanding the scope and scale of the production to befit a feature film. One of the main appeals of the show, as is the case with most scripted television programs, is the characters. The members of the Addams family are memorable and unique both as individuals and as a group and the film upholds this with some good performances by a very strong cast. Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston play parents Gomez and Morticia Addams, Jimmy Workman and Christina Ricci play their children Pugsley and Wednesday, Judith Malina and Carel Struycken play Granny and Lurch, and Christopher Lloyd plays the con artist posing as Uncle Fester. These performers channel the characters as seen in the original show while adding their own touches. One of the reasons the cast is so successful is that, like a real family, they form a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts. Despite the morbid sensibilities of the characters there is a sense of familial solidarity; the film creates the illusion that these characters do actually like each other and have strong family bonds. This becomes critical to the success of the movie because their family unity makes the group appealing and the audience will take the family’s side as they befall challenges. The success that The Addams Family has with its lead actors is indicative of the reasons for its overall success: it gets the tone just right. One of the thornier tasks involved in adapting a television show for a motion picture audience of another era is figuring out how to adapt the characters for a new setting. Rather than updating the Addams Family to 1990s America, the filmmakers embrace anachronism. This preserves the look of the family and keeps them recognizable and it makes them outsiders, which again creates sympathy on the part of the viewer. This also allows for a lot of humor and The Addams Family is very funny with sight gags and jokes coming at a regular basis. In preserving the tone of the television show, the film carries that technique into its design. The picture was made in the early days of digital effects and it uses them sparingly. Even the effects that have dated a bit, such as those involving Thing, the family pet, have aged in such a way that makes the movie charming.

What Doesn’t: The Addams Family is not a very edgy film and that may be one way in which it has significantly dated. Many recent television adaptations amend their source either with raunchier humor, as in 2005’s The Dukes of Hazzard, or a darker tone as in 2010’s The A-Team. The tone that the filmmakers have established works very well for the relatively family friendly movie that they have made and that is part of the reason it holds up so well. But for better or worse it is also very much a studio product and plays things safe. The only other notable flaw of The Addams Family is in the film’s resolution, which is absurd and a cop out. It is consistent with the tone of the movie and it comes late enough in the picture that viewers who have gone along that far will cross that narrative bridge without too much eye rolling.

DVD extras: Trailers.
Bottom Line: The Addams Family is one of the most successful adaptations of a television show because of it embraces what made the original source work. After more than two decades the film holds up remarkably well.

Episode: #389 (May 20, 2012)