The evolution and significance of The Addams Family
From kooky cartoons to a noteworthy Netflix series, the Addams Family franchise continues to wow audiences.
Four notes from a pipe organ and two snaps is all you need to recognize this historically “creepy and kooky” family. Beginning as a single-panel cartoon series by Charles Addams in the early 1930s, The Addams Family has turned into a massive franchise— featuring television shows, films, crossovers, video games, and even a Broadway musical. With Tim Burton’s Wednesday (2022) as the latest adaptation, a lot of the show’s success is owed to its predecessors.
Addams first published his cartoon series, The Addams Family, in The New Yorker in 1938. His art satirized the idea of the “nuclear family” of the mid-twentieth century by portraying a macabre-loving “old money” American family. Simply put, he illustrated a happy and loving family living odd lives. While The Addams Family cartoon did not give the characters individual names, the main players in all subsequent adaptations were featured.
In 1964, The Addams Family was given life with their first television series. The show introduced the family in a more comedic way—compared to their cartoon counterparts. The main characters of the family featured Gomez (John Astin), Morticia (Carolyn Jones), Wednesday (Lisa Loring), Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax), Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan), Lurch (Ted Cassidy), and Grandmama (Marie Blake). While the show gained popularity, The Addams Family had direct competition with another strange, Frankenstein-inspired family—The Munsters (1964). Eventually, The Addams Family went on to gain cult classic status after reruns began to appear across broadcast networks.
Between the 1960’s and 1990’s, The Addams Family was featured in different television series, specials, and crossovers—including a 1972 episode of Scooby Doo called “Wednesday is Missing.” In 1991, The Addams Family was brought to the big screen with a film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. The movie starred Angelica Huston as Morticia, Raúl Juliá as Gomez, Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester, and Christina Ricci in her iconic role as Wednesday. Throughout the film, it is evident that Sonnenfeld reverted to the darker roots that had been established in Charles Addams’ original cartoons of the family.
Amid the motion picture’s grim tone, Sonnenfeld took the sweet Wednesday and molded her into the wonderfully woeful character that audiences know and love. The film and its 1993 sequel, Addams Family Values, provided us with some of the most memorable Wednesday scenes—such as her famous yet objectional Thanksgiving speech.
After Raúl Juliá’s untimely death in 1994, the Sonnenfeld chapter of The Addams Family franchise came to an end. However, in 1998, the family was back with Dave Payne’s Addams Family Reunion. Years later, in 2010, The Addams Family Broadway musical hit the stage.
With another return to cinema, the Addams family hit the big screen once again in 2019, bringing to life Charles Addams’ cartoons in an animated feature film with a 2021 sequel. The animated film brought back the exaggerated and comical looks of the family—with a short and round Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and a long and lanky Morticia (Charlize Theron).
The latest addition to The Addams Family catalogue is Netflix’s Wednesday. Burton’s hit series is a different kind of entry into The Addams Family franchise. While Gomez (Luis Guzmán), Morticia (Catherine Zeta Jones), Pugsley (Isaac Ordonez), Lurch (George Burcea), and Uncle Fester (Fred Armisen) all make appearances in the show, the focus is on Wednesday (Jenna Ortega) and her hand-creature, Thing (Victor Dorobantu). As they navigate Nevermore Academy, a boarding school, the show unpacks Wednesday’s backstory unlike ever before. Since its release, it became the second most watched show on Netflix—but some fans still have complaints.
Many felt that casting Guzmán as Gomez was wrong for the superficial reason that he lacked Juliá’s charm when playing the character. There was also criticism about placing Wednesday amongst other “outcasts”—considering Addams’s cartoons were a satire and had little to do with feeling outcasted.
Wednesday is just the latest in a long line of Addams Family adaptations, and it is obvious that the show is aware of its roots and the cultures that created the family. As a lifelong Addams Family fan myself, seeing Christina Ricci cast as a teacher at Nevermore reminded me of her iconic and most beloved version of Wednesday. The only thing I was really missing from Wednesday was the irreplaceable Addams Family theme song.
Associate Arts & Entertainment Editor (Volume 49) — Megan is majoring in English with minors in Creative Writing and History. Her love of the arts and experience in theatre and music are the backbone of Megan’s work with The Medium. Aside from her academics and journalistic endeavors, Megan can be found writing original music for streaming platforms, playing her pink Fender Jazz Bass, writing spooky detective stories, longing for the mountains of B.C., and watching Disney+. Her preferred instruments of writing are her notes app and her 1970s Erika typewriter. You can connect with Megan on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.