MGM just dropped the first teaser for its animated reboot of The Addams Family, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from the franchise—no more, no less. Do I sound a teensy bit grumpy? Chalk it up to reboot fatigue.
American cartoonist Charles Addams created the characters in 1938, originally as a series of single-panel cartoons published in The New Yorker. They were his satirical sendup of American “family values,” turning the entire social framework upside down. The characters proved so popular that ABC created a 1964 live-action sitcom, The Addams Family, based on them. (Not everyone was pleased by the development. Wallace Shawn was editor of The New Yorker at the time, and his refined sensibilities were allegedly so offended by the TV series that he actually banned Addams Family cartoons from the magazine; the characters didn’t return to its pages until he retired in 1987.)
Animated versions of the family have appeared regularly in film and TV since the 1970s, and Fox unsuccessfully attempted to revive the original TV series in 1998 with The New Addams Family. But it was two live-action feature films in 1991 and 1993, respectively, that defined their canonical representation in popular culture: The Addams Family and Addams Family Values.
The late Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston were the Platonic ideals of Gomez and Morticia Addams, and Christina Ricci’s dourly deadpan Wednesday Addams was someone to whom every former misfit kid with macabre interests could relate. The writing was crisp, the performances were inspired, the cinematography and set musical numbers were phenomenal, and the gags (several lifted from the original cartoons) landed strong. Both films are now justly considered comedy classics (and they sit among my all-time personal favorites).
But reboot frenzy leaves no classic film unscathed, it seems, so now we’re getting yet another animated film in the franchise. This one was originally supposed to be a stop-motion film directed by Tim Burton—which, honestly, sounds pretty awesome, given Burton’s distinctive visual style. It’s unclear what happened there, but it seems MGM acquired the rights to the original series from Universal Pictures and opted to go in a different direction.
Now we have our first glimpse of the finished product, and it’s… fine. Plot-wise, it seems the Addams family runs into trouble when it is targeted by a treacherous reality TV host, Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), just as the family is expecting the extended family for a big celebration. Wednesday still plays with guillotines and electric chairs, Pugsley still loves explosives, and it’s the same topsy-turvy world where things the mainstream considers “bad” hold much value for the Addams clan, right down to their trademark gothic Victorian mansion. “It’s hideous,” declares Morticia. “It’s horrible,” Gomez agrees. Then they sigh contentedly: “It’s home.” (I do appreciate how closely these characters resemble the original cartoons, at least.)
I’m not saying this latest animated incarnation will be bad. Given its talented cast, perhaps it will make a fine addition to the franchise (though, again, nothing will ever top the delightful 1991 and 1993 live action films). But it was the freshness and originality that made Charles Addams’ macabre family such a pop culture juggernaut in the first place. I guess I’d rather see something equally fresh and original this Halloween rather than yet another reboot. So one note to Hollywood: maybe something inspired by Edward Gorey, who shared Addams’ sense of the Gothic macabre, could jump-start the next successful franchise. I’d watch an animated special of The Gashleycrumb Tinies in a heartbeat.
The Addams Family is slated to hit theaters October 11, 2019.
Listing image by YouTube/MGM