Thursday, December 13, 2012

THURSDAY THROWBACK: The Addams Family (1991)

Sometimes films like The Addams Family tend to age poorly.  TV series adaptations are risky propositions most of the time anyway; consider the staleness of The Beverly Hillbillies to see where these adaptations can go wrong.  But I can say with some conviction that The Addams Family holds up after all these years, and might possibly have gotten better with age.  The energy, the humor, and even the effects show no signs of weariness like so many early 90s pictures.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Much of this can be attributed to the cast, but we cannot discount the inventiveness of Barry Sonnenfeld, directing his first feature film.

Although The Addams Family seems to be a film tailor-made for the talents of Tim Burton - who was approached but turned it down for other commitments - but it might be a good thing Burton didn't direct.  Barry Sonnenfeld keeps the film balanced and holds on to a slight sense of realism surrounding the wacky macabre family and their antics.  The late Raul Julia holds form as Gomez Addams, channeling the manic energy and sheer madness of the character made famous by John Astin in the 60s television series.  As Morticia, his Gothic love, Angelica Huston is marvelous.  The entire cast is rounded out well with Cristina Ricci as the somber young Wednesday, Jimmy Workman as Pugsley, Judith Malina as Ma-Ma, and Carel Struycken serving as great background decorations as the befuddled butler, Lurch.  But the real attraction, and the focal point of the plot here, involves Uncle Fester.

Fester, played by Christopher Lloyd, first appears as Gordon, son of the vindictive Abigail Craven (Elizabeth Wilson) .  Abigail is intent on getting her hands on the Addams' fortune and, teaming up with the hapless Addams lawyer Tully (Dan Hedaya), uses Gordon to impersonate Gomez's long-lost brother, Fester.  Of course we realize Gordon is, in fact, Fester, and an accident left him without a memory when he was taken in by Abigail.  Coming to this realization takes a great deal of time for Fester.

The antics are amped up as it has the advantages of filmmaking freedom.  All of the greatest hits are here, including both Cousin Itt and the family pet, Thing, a hand which is no longer stuck to a box as it was in the series.  Thanks to some special effects magic which holds up still today, Thing is free to roam the endless corridors of the Addams household.  On top of the enjoyable eye candy on display here, the writing is clever and on point.  Much of the magic of the series is brought into the script, written by Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson, and all of the actors make this film a delightful experience still to this day.  Barry Sonnefeld would go on to direct the great sequel, Addams Family Values, and he matched the energy of this fun, original romp.