Thursday, October 31, 2019

In the Vicinity of Ookiness

I saved my review of the new, animated Addams Family film for Halloween…

So I can spend most of it pointing out why the Addams Family shouldn’t be Halloween based if they follow the TV series, which they should because it was awesome, and I'd much rather talk about it.

Heck, they loved Christmas just as much, because they are a festive and loving bunch.  This incarnation of Gomez and Morticia are also, arguably, the best parents and the most loving and supportive spouses ever to grace a television screen.

Overall the new film was fun. The plot had a lot of highly cliché bits to it, but it was short enough, and there were enough really good gags in it, to overwhelm that shortcoming.

It’s better than many other efforts, but doesn't reach the magnificence of the TV series. I think one of the reasons it does succeed is it isn’t afraid to reference the show. 

Frequently, those creating new versions claim to want to ignore the series and go back to the original comic. However, the comic, while brilliant, was mostly single panels. Therefore the results of basing a film or show on it tended to be a bunch of quality gags without the overall big picture holding together well.

I think there’s some bleed over from the The Munsters as well.  The Munsters were a loving family, but they were a blue collar group of monsters who never understood why people thought they were different.  The Addams’s are a group of old world, classy and extremely polite- if odd- people who knew they were different than their WASPy neighbors, and unselfishly shared their awesome differences.

The association with Halloween comes from the Addams’s being “creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky.”

However, most of the other versions leave out what the show excelled at.

“They’re all together ooky!”

Having recently rewatched the series with my family, I have now found the proper examples of “ookiness.”

The TV Addams Family members are always overwhelmingly enthusiastic, caring, passionate, and supportive about their ventures and each other.

Many other versions have them obsessed with death, where on the show there was an obsession with life!

Okay, yes, and with dead things, and creepy things. But overall it's a series of very happy obsessions.

Out of all the shows I watched as a kid, The Addams Family was the one I wanted to live on.

That’s not because they were weird.

That’s not ONLY because they were weird.

It’s because it was such an amazingly loving and supportive environment.
It’s because whatever lunatic idea any one of them had, they would approach it with full gusto, excitement, and the approval and help of the entire family, even the times when the family didn’t agree it was the right thing.

The whole idea in other versions that the Addams’s torture each other because they enjoy pain would be completely out of place in the show.

They never refer to the bed of nails, head vise, or the rack as torture implements, nor to they show evidence of being in pain. The items are in the unironically named “playroom.”  The use of those toys is always shown as relaxing, beneficial and pleasant. There’s never a “hurt me more, I like it” vibe.  It’s always a straight, overly happy, “aah, that feels good,” message going on, as if it was a back rub.


Similarly, the ideas of the children rebelling against their parents just to rebel, or asking them to act normal would be a totally alien concept.  It would be equally alien as the Addams parents forcing the children to conform to the family's ways solely because of tradition, and to avoid anything new. 

The whole Addams Family is enthusiastically, outgoing and gleeful.  It’s not an isolated mansion, as they’re shown to be members of all kinds of neighborhood groups and town functions and fundraisers.  They care about other people and want them to enjoy all the fun stuff they do.

They also don’t shun technology.  They had a robot, and the family had a computer in the house in 1965!  This extended to other trends as well.  Gomez was constantly investing in new technologies and ideas, and Morticia’s hobbies often ventured into modern art, literature and other pursuits.  Their inherent ookiness allowed satire of current trends from the inside, rather than the outside.

Getting back to the glee.  The new cartoon Pugsley does match the original comic’s feral looking lad, and Wednesday is clearly based on Christina Ricci’s highly entertaining deadpan version from the films.

But Ken Weatherwax and Lisa Loring were always smiling and sweet (and polite, I can't stress that one enough) as the kids on the show.  Yes, they were smiling and sweet while blowing up trains, playing with their pet octopus and tarantula, and beheading dolls, but that’s what made it great.  It wasn’t that the family thought they should shun the rest of the world because their macabre likes would make them feared.  No, they thought they had a whole bunch of cool and awesome stuff (which they did) and wanted to share it with everyone.  But because of their overwhelming niceness, they are also almost completely tolerant of other’s differences, unless it hurt their children. Don't tell those kids stories about those horribly behaved children pushing a poor defenseless witch into an oven! There’s that family bond thing again. It wasn’t “no one hurts my family but me.” It was “no one hurts my family, period!”

The Addams’s first instinct is always to help others.  Even when being robbed, the response was usually, “the poor fellow needs money; take what you need from the desk drawer! Will that be enough?”

Gomez is usually shown to be manically enthusiastic in every version, likely thanks to the outstanding John Astin's personality shining through on the series, and being guided by Producer Nat Perrin infusing him with Groucho’s mannerisms from his days as a Marx Brothers writer.

In most other versions, Tish is overly quiet and reserved.  I believe that comes from how fantastic a job Carolyn Jones did in the role, that no one gets it quite right when recreating it.

While Morticia was more subdued than Gomez…as is the entire universe I guess, Jones conveyed just as much enthusiasm through subtler ways.

While her French would set Gomez off in obvious passion, her expression and tone in saying, “Later, Bubele,” had enough smolder in it to reflect the same level of passion, and indicate “later” would be more than memorable. She showed just as much enthusiasm for her unusual hobbies and pursuits as the rest of the crowd, punctuating responses with the occasional, “Wonderful!” Compared to how over the top the rest of the gang was, she may have seemed more sedate, but Jones was able to convey just as much emotion through her controlled mannerisms.

Ted Cassidy’s subtleties are often missed in newer versions as well, making Lurch an inexpressive zombie like monster.  Lurch in the show, while a man of few words, showed by body language and expressions that he was a man of taste and breeding. His reactions also showed he was often the “only sane man” in the family’s plans and hi-jinks. 

They were all phenomenal actors in the original series, and their varied experience allowed the family to have layers. The wide eyed sweet innocence of the children, the passionate love and support of the parents, and the more cynical and practical views of the older generation. Having Jackie Coogan and Blossom Rock as the elder family members provided balance through their years of experience.  Grandmamma was Gomez’s mother, allowing Morticia’s Uncle Fester (Carbuncle) to represent the Frump family. There was never disagreements along family line sides however, only occasionally between generations. Fester as Gomez’s brother throws off that dynamic, and removes someone to tag team with Grandmamma to suggest comical retributions to protect the gang.  Whether it be her chemical witchcraft potions, or his “I’ll shoot ‘em in the back!” their reactions allowed Morticia and Gomez to continue to demonstrate how compassionate and accepting they were, when they calmed their elders down.

One key area of ookiness nailed only by the 1964 series that I want to bring up was the music. Again, it’s connected to their acceptance and forward thinking.   Besides classical, traditional music, Morticia and Wednesday were both versed in the twist, and other 1960’s trends.

To play up the creepy and spooky aspects, other versions use pipe organs and violins to create sweeping waltzes.  The tango is a much more lively and passionate type of tune to begin with.  However the big difference is Lurch being a master on the harpsichord, not the pipe organ. The harpsichord has a much brighter sound, jaunty in fact, but is odd enough to enhance the overall levels of ooky.  There were a fair amount of saxophone parts in the score as well, adding both jazziness and torchy qualities.  It's all ooky, man.

A final note on ooky.  A disembodied hand running around has been proven to be creepy and kooky.  However, I always found the notion of Thing extending from boxes, indicating there may be hidden depths to him, both physically and psychologically was far more ooky.

The new cartoon excelled in the places where it called back to the spirit of the TV series, here’s hoping the sequel builds more in that direction.

And they better have a John Astin cameo next time….
A really ooky one, or they're getting an angry phone call.

da da da Dum *Snap Snap*!

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