The Addams Family

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Screenplay: Caroline Thompson & Larry Wilson (based on characters created by Charles Addams)
Stars: Anjelica Huston (Morticia Addams), Raul Julia (Gomez Addams), Christopher Lloyd (Uncle Fester Addams / Gordon Craven), Dan Hedaya (Tully Alford), Elizabeth Wilson (Abigail Craven / Dr. Greta Pinder-Schloss), Judith Malina (Granny), Carel Struycken (Lurch), Dana Ivey (Margaret Alford), Paul Benedict (Judge Womack), Christina Ricci (Wednesday Addams), Jimmy Workman (Pugsley Addams), Christopher Hart (Thing), John Franklin (Cousin It)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 1991
Country: U.S.
The Addams Family / Addams Family Values Blu-ray
The Addams Family

The opening of Barry Sonnenfeld’s The Addams Family recreates in morbidly humorous, loving detail one of Charles Addams’s most famous New Yorker cartoons, in which the titular family perches atop their decrepit mansion, preparing to pour a cauldron of boiling oil on a group of beaming Christmas carolers. It’s exactly the kind of delightful, misanthropic black comedy that made Addams’s cartoon creations so famous, leading to numerous adaptations in other media, most famously the 1960s television series that introduced not only the instantly iconic, snappy theme music, but also gave the characters their names (they went nameless in Addams’s comic panels).

When Sonnenfeld’s film came out in the early ’90s, the Addams Family had been largely out of the media spotlight, with virtually no appearances on film or television during the preceding decade and a half (the last major Addams event was a 1977 television reunion movie titled Halloween With the New Addams Family). Thus, their re-appearance at the end of the Reagan/Bush era felt like a particularly nasty bit of gloomy fun, given an extra jolt of energy by the spot-on casting of Raul Julia as the bug-eyed, ever-enthusiastic patriarch Gomez Addams, the lithe, angular Anjelica Huston as his statuesque wife Morticia, Christopher Lloyd as the leering, pasty white Uncle Fester, and Christina Riccia (then an unknown) and Jimmy Workman as Wednesday and Pugsley, the family’s adolescent kiddos whose idea of fun and games involves electric chairs and guillotines.

Sonnenfeld, who was making his feature-directing debut after a decade-long career as an ace cinematographer, primarily for Joel and Ethan Coen’s early films, turned out to have a perfectly attuned sensibility, as he captures the family’s droll humor with just the right mixture of morbidity and genuine care; he gets the idea of the American Gothic-gone-humorous. Many of the laughs in The Addams Family revolve around the way the family’s value system reflects the traditional American family while simultaneously inverting everything it is about. Love is still love in the Addams Family world, but normal is definitely not normal. Thus, Gomez is always sure to be supportive and complimentary of Pugsley’s achievements, even when said achievement involves stealing stop signs to ensure an auto accident. Similarly, Gomez and Morticia’s intense romance and passion for each other should stand as some kind of beacon to long-married couples that the flame can not only stay lit, but burn even brighter as the years go by. The fact that Gomez’s terms of endearment and ribald passion for his wife saunters happily into the realm of gleeful caricature only makes it that much more enjoyable (Julia, a veteran of the stage, knows how to really ham it up).

Of course, there has to be a plot in there to hang all the jokes on, and screenwriters (and Tim Burton collaborators) Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands) and Larry Wilson (Beetlejuice) come up with a farce involving a scheming fake psychologist named Dr. Greta Pinder-Schloss (Elizabeth Wilson) passing off her son Gordon (Christopher Lloyd) as Uncle Fester, who in this telling has been missing for years. It’s all a ploy to steal the aristocratic Addams clan’s great wealth, and Gomez is so enamored of his long-lost brother’s return that he is incapable of recognizing what is happening right under his nose. Of course, there is always plenty going on in the gloomy halls of the Addams mansion, whether it be Granny (Judith Malina) cooking up a witch’s brew of some sort or the disembodied hand known as Thing running through the hallways and getting caught on one of Pugsley’s skates. Pugsley and Wednesday pretty much steal the show every time they’re on screen, although they function as little more than interstitial punchlines to break up the action (when Pugsley asks what game they are playing as Wednesday straps him into an old electric chair, she answers in perfectly deadpan fashion, “It’s called ‘Is There a God?’” It is in such moments that we recognize how these characters initially grew out of one-panel comics, and most of the best material in The Addams Family oscillates between such one-off jokes and a—dare I say it?—endearing affection for this misfit family, whose commitment to their own offbeat existence is a grand achievement to which we should all strive.

The Addams Family / Addams Family Values Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 (both films)
AudioThe Addams Family
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Addams Family Values
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • German Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • SubtitlesThe Addams Family
  • English, French, Spanish
  • Addams Family Values
  • English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
  • SupplementsNone
    DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateOctober 1, 2019

    The Addams Family was previously released on Blu-ray in 2014, and I am assuming that this is the same fine transfer from five years ago. Addams Family Values, however, has only been available on DVD, so this two-disc set marks the sequel’s high-definition debut. Both films look and sound very good, with clear, well delineated images that are particularly good in their black levels and shadow detail. Striking instances of color, such as Morticia’s blood-red nails or the bright, sunny camp sequences in Values, look good as well, with a slightly intense saturation that plays into the films’ campy appeal. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtracks on both discs sound fine, as well, with good separation in the surround channels, an effective low end (for moments of rumbling thunder, for example), and clear dialogue. Unfortunately, there are no supplements on either film, which seems like a missed opportunity.

    Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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