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Film Playback: “The Addams Family”

While the 2019 animated incarnation of “The Addams Family” may be fresh on everyone’s minds, to us there’s only one Addams Family film that reigns supreme. The kooky and spooky family has been around since the 1930s, going from comic strip to TV show to beloved feature films, but for nearly every current fan the 1991 film is the definitive version. We’re gonna shuffle on back to take a closer look at “The Addams Family.”

“The Addams Family” was released in theaters on November 22, 1991, as a quirky alternative to the typical slate of holiday releases. The film even begins on a cheerful, Christmas-y note as the Addams family has a hilarious encounter with some holiday carolers. Barry Sonnenfeld made his directorial debut with “The Addams Family” and would go on to direct the sequel, as well as bringing his playfully macabre style to “Wild Wild West,” the “Men in Black” films and episodes of “Pushing Daisies” and the Netflix original “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

In “The Addams Family,” con artists plan to fleece the eccentric family by using an accomplice that claims to be their long-lost uncle. The cast of “The Addams Family” is absolutely iconic — perfectly assembled and impossible to top. Personally, I would credit a huge part of the film’s longevity to how well the cast works. It’s perfect.

Anjelica Huston is at her peak as the seductive and bewitching Morticia Addams. Raul Julia is equal parts smoldering and hilarious in the role of Gomez Addams. Christopher Lloyd brings kooky life to the bumbling Uncle Fester. Christina Ricci is just cutting her teeth as an actress but redefines creepy as Wednesday Addams. Judith Malina, Elizabeth Wilson and Dana Ivey join many others to round out one hell of a supporting cast.

The Addams have enjoyed a long history in American popular culture. They were originally created in 1938 as a comic series by cartoonist Charles Addams. In 1964, a television sitcom joined the counter culture movement of the period (other spooky sitcoms like “The Munsters” were popular during this time). The series ended in 1977 but the seed had been planted deep, and the way was paved for the 1991 film.

The Addams Family
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

The style of Charles Addams is prevalent in all incarnations of the famous family, and it’s part of what makes the film so timelessly charming. “The Addams Family” is one of those films that perfectly encapsulates the feeling of Halloween. There’s macabre and accessible spooks, but it’s all done through this delightfully cartoonish lens, and it’s pure fun above all else. It creates a sense of nostalgia in content alone and doesn’t necessarily rely on appealing to the generation that first viewed it.

Beyond having a finger on the pulse of the spooky season, “The Addams Family” is just a well done film. The setting and costumes are incredibly rich; it’s beautiful to look at. The whole film just oozes atmosphere and the viewer is compelled to buy in completely from the get-go. This is only elevated by the stellar performances I mentioned previously. The story is simple but it’s fully committed to its world and, therefore, so are we.

A criticism that has been leveled at the latest animated edition of “The Addams Family” is that the film is a tad too childish and is limited by its appeal to a younger audience. Even though the 1991 film was crafted to be a family feature, it still holds just as much appeal for adults as it did for children — just another reason that the film has such incredible staying power and such a loyal audience.

“The Addams Family” is, as advertised, creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, and altogether ooky. It’s a fantastic piece for its time that has aged beautifully and will absolutely remain a seasonal staple.

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Featured image credit: Paramount Pictures

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