Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 22, 1991
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Based on the classic 1960s sitcom and New Yorker cartoons, “The Addams Family” centers on the titular family, a kooky bunch who like being abnormal. The family consists of patriarch Gomez (Raul Julia) and matriarch Morticia (Anjelica Huston), who live in a huge, turreted house on a hill with daughter Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and son Pugsly (Jimmy Workman). They are in possession of a large fortune, but they seem disinterested in material pursuits, instead focusing on mischievous activities such as Wednesday chasing after Pugsly with an axe just for fun. They also have a man servant, or should that be hand servant called Thing, a dismembered hand that acts as a butler and is just as much a part of the family as the full-bodied members.
The family is very loving and happy, but they unfortunately have horrible judgment when it comes to picking a lawyer. The slimy Tully Alford (Dan Hedaya) knows of the Addams family fortune and devises a plan with the equally slimy Abigail (Elizabeth Wilson) to steal their fortune. Tully decides to dress up Abigail’s hapless son Gordon (Christopher Lloyd) as Gomez’s long-lost brother Fester in an effort to gain access to the house. Dressed as Fester, Gordon’s mission is to find the family safe and steal the money, so Tully and Abigail can be rich.
Gomez is absolutely delighted to see his prodigal brother return after a twenty-five-year absence and welcomes him with open arms. The only one who seems suspicious is Wednesday, who makes it her mission to try and find out if this is really her uncle Fester or an imposter. Gordon tries to stay focused, but he finds himself drawn into the strange family dynamic as if he truly does belong there. Will he end up stealing the money anyways, or will the new bonds he has formed get him to do the right thing?
The 1960s version of the sitcom by the same name featured the same characters, including Thing. Due to the lack of computer-generated effects that are so easy to use today, the sitcom version of Thing was relegated to boxes and tables, unable to move around very much. Luckily, technology was good enough in 1991 when the film was released to let Thing have some freedom of movement. Not only is Thing now a major player in the film because of its sudden mobility, but it also gets some big laughs, such as when it gets a job with FedEx delivering packages. Several other fun things, such as the moving mounds of gooey food the Addams eat, are also achieved with modern special effects, giving the film a big upgrade from the sitcom without losing the zany and macabre mood.
Though special effects and Thing are big parts of the film, “The Addams Family” would not be a success without the acting of the humans involved as well. Huston is a ravishing Morticia with great deadpan timing who has excellent chemistry with Julia, who plays Gomez like a swashbuckling pirate. Together, they make the audience feel as if this is a loving family, despite the fact that Wednesday engages in play and experiments that could potentially harm or kill her brother. Speaking of Wednesday, Ricci knocks it out of the park in her first major film as the twisted daughter of the family. Her deadpan delivery of lines will have you in stitches. Her timing of these lines rivals that of Huston, who has many more years of experience than the young ingénue.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld is arguably best known for directing the original “Men in Black,” which was a huge box office hit. Many don’t realize that his very first film as a director was actually “The Addams Family,” after working many years as a cinematographer on films such as “Misery.” It was the critical and financial success of “The Addams Family” that helped him gain enough clout to make films such as “Men in Black” and the underrated “Get Shorty” in subsequent years. It’s easy to see why “The Addams Family” was a great stepping stone from which to build a career. Sonnenfeld takes the half hour of the original TV show and stretches it out into ninety-nine minutes without making it drag at all. The set pieces and camera framing are superb, as if Tim Burton designed the set without getting too dark. Combining elements of the macabre with comedy isn’t easy, but Sonnenfeld and company make it look easy, which helps make the film so much fun to watch.
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