On My Shelves: The Addams Family/Addams Family Values



Girl Scout: "Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?"

Wednesday: "Are they made with real Girl Scouts?"


     I never watched the original TV series,and had only seen a few of the Charles Addams comics, but I saw The Addams Family on the recommendation of a few friends, and found it to be a tremendously entertaining film – and one with some rather unusual elements. The same was true of its sequel, Addams Family Values; I've watched both films several times. (NOTE: The link above goes to a combo deal for both movies on DVD, which is why I haven't put a separate link on Addams Family Values)


     For the few who might be unfamiliar with the basic premise of the movies and their antecedents, the Addams Family of the title is a sort of Brady Bunch or Cleaver family seen in a Gothic, supernatural mirror. It isn't quite accurate to say that they're the exact opposite of everything normal, but that's certainly a good general starting point. The Addams children, Wednesday and Pugsley, go fly their kites during thunderstorms, hoping to get struck by lightning; their mother, Morticia, cares for her garden by carefully pruning away the hideous roses and leaving the lovely thorn-covered stems; their father Gomez Addams plays the stock market and celebrates his losses. When Wednesday goes past her mother carrying a knife, Morticia asks, "Is that for your brother?"; when Wednesday reluctantly nods, her mother shakes her head sadly, takes away the knife… and hands her a MUCH larger blade.


     Naturally, a great deal of the humor of the TV show (which I watched some of later) and the movies comes from the intersection of the Addams' view of reality with that of the more mundane world. But that humor only worked because the Addams Family itself was serious – they really did behave that way and thought it was normal.


The Addamses are not – despite appearances and occasional dialogue – psychopaths or otherwise insane; though in appearance and surface behavior they seem to be the opposite of the Cleavers, the Bradys, and other too-perfect 1950s American Families, the truth is that they really are exactly the same. They are Americans with a strong work ethic (despite Gomez' odd interpretation of work, such as bragging he's never won a case yet as a lawyer, Gomez is constantly busy at something despite the fact that he is more than rich enough to never have to work at all), an extremely tight family bond, and a strange desire to fit in (that is unfortunately or fortunately countered by their inability to see why they DON’T fit in).


This is really why the humor works the way it does; if the Addams Family were trying to, in fannish parlance, "freak the mundanes", it wouldn't be funny at all after the first couple times. The amusement stems from the fact that the Addamses truly are trying to fit in, think they're just like everyone else, and don’t understand why their donation of torture implements to the PTA Auction causes so much fuss.


     The movies both follow through on this theme strongly, presenting the Addamses as a perfectly normal family in the middle of a bunch of people who Just Don't Understand when Gomez plays with his trains. Admittedly, they're full-size trains and he likes to crash them, but still…


     Both movies have, as a central plot element, an attempt by someone to find a way to steal or otherwise obtain access to the fabulous Addams fortune; the ironic thing is that the Addamses admire good thieves, treachery, backstabbing, and so on, and if these people kept their plots to the high road – merely attempting a little burglary, betrayal, a backstabbing, even just some straightforward murder attempts on Gomez, that sort of thing – there'd be little trouble. But the villains always make the same terrible mistake; they try to break up the family itself, damage its workings, and that will get the Addamses coming after you in all their quirky, creepy, indestructible glory.


     It's a rather odd thing that The Addams Family and its sequel, Addams Family Values, are two of the best family films I've seen, in the sense of films that show functional, reasonably well-adjusted families who respect and work with each other as a unit. I can't think of very many such, in fact; most films either destroy the family as motivation (kill off the parents, etc.) or have the dysfunctional nature of the existing family be one of the drivers of the plot. Of the relatively recent (this century) movies I've watched, only four really stand out as having the dynamic of a devoted, stable-despite-strains  family as a core component: the two Addams Family films, Speed Racer, and The Incredibles. As a family man myself, I find that element makes these films vastly stronger.


     But the Addams Family films are worth watching just for the macabre events – the peculiarly savage, yet futile, outbreaks of sibling rivalry; the celebratory dance that involves flinging incredible numbers of lethal objects at each other; Wednesday and Pugsley enduring the torment of a summer camp meant for upscale yuppies, and eventually taking their vengeance upon their oppressors; and so many more.


     If you haven't seen either of these, check them out; they're a hell of a lot of fun!




  1. Pastel?

  2. I think I’d seen a bit of the TV show but I liked the movies more. I even liked the Nintendo game about Uncle Fester.

  3. Stephen M. St. Onge says:

    Yes, the Addams’s just don’t get it. The scene where Moriticia’s being tortured “Ooh, you’ve done THIS before,” or the viewing of the new baby Grandmama: “He has his grandfather’s eyes.” Morticia: “Yes. Gomez, take those out of his mouth.” I loved them.

    But if you haven’t read all of Charles Addams’s cartoons, go get them. Attorney pointing device out of window, down at the street “Death ray? Bah! Doesn’t even slow them down!” Just bloody marvelous.

  4. Eek! I watched the TV Show. I watched the movies. I categorize them, as Mannie explained to Mike, as “funny-once.” They aren’t on my shelves, because I saw them already.

Your comments or questions welcomed!