They’re creepy and they’re kooky, and they’re back in a brand-new movie! Yes, The Addams Family, one of the most well-known and loved group of adorably macabre characters of all time, was back in theaters in October. Overall reception was mostly good, and it did fair enough at the box office that a sequel was announced for 2021.
For most people, the family we get nostalgic for comes from the 1960s sitcom, the two live action films, and/or the animated series of the early ’90s. The recent release is not like them in appearance, at all. Directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan based the characters on the original Addams Family cartoon strip which appeared in The New Yorker in 1938 by Charles “Chas” Addams.
I admit, I was completely turned off by the cartoonish CGI appearance at first. It clashed so hard with my love for the Addams Family of my childhood that I couldn’t quite get excited enough to watch it. It did, however, pique my curiosity a bit. I decided to ease myself into it by checking out the book, The Addams Family: The Art of the Animated Movie by Ramin Zahed, and I’m so glad I did.
First, let me get my concerns out of the way. This book isn’t written consistently well. There are run on sentences, mind-numbing repetition, and it doesn’t flow well at times. It’s full of quotes that are occasionally interesting, but there is a lot of back patting and often times it’s as if even they are parroting each other. There’s no information on how they actually made the movie, moving from Addams originals to their storyboards, and on to solid animations.
There’s very little about the building of scenes to create the mood or feel. Even more odd is that things you would expect to have explored are just glanced at in passing, i.e. the various weapons, the graveyard, the gardens. Some areas feel rushed while others are nonexistent, for example we’re rushed through the style of young Morticia, and there is nothing about Uncle Fester’s tattoo.
Nevertheless, you can see the vision that Zahed (who MGM Acknowledgements in the back of the book curiously lists as their “golden author”) had for the book. There’s enough that’s well written or interesting enough that it balances out the shortcomings and makes it worth reading. And, to be really blunt here, we’re mainly here to check out the artwork anyway, right?
It’s made very clear throughout the book that directors Vernon and Tiernan had no desire to do a remake. The plan of visually staying true to the comic strip and occasionally channeling the aura of the sitcom and films seems to have worked out for the most part. Disappointingly, there’s only two original comics included in the book for comparison.
The Addams Family: The Art of the Animated Movie is broken down by individual characters and it would’ve been really cool to see how the new CGI character compares to the original. Despite the missed opportunity to showcase their “true-to-form” stylistic design, embellishments, and all the artistic liberties allowed, the artwork is still presented in a way that is impressive and fun to look at.
Finding beauty in the darkness
Every page is splashed with renderings, early concepts, storyboards, or design elements for our beloved Addams crew. It details some of the important discussions that occurred, such as how to keep kids interested in watching when using a such dark color palette. There’s a pretty interesting section where Zahed talks about how the movie pays homage to horror films like The Shining and Poltergeist through characters like Ichabod; a tree that wakes the Addams children every morning.
It’s obvious that there was a lot of hard work and attention to detail, from the buttons on Uncle Fester’s coat to Morticia’s adorable ambulance alarm clock. The work is good and I admire the brilliant usage of such a dark palette; it was done beautifully and with great care. Honestly, I don’t think this book talks enough about the overcoming the difficulties of- and explaining why- the success they had was important, not only to the film, but as a piece of art.
While the book text is hit and miss for me, it did make me excited to see the movie. While I admit that I’m still not a fan of the overall appearance of the characters- Gomez is awkward looking, Morticia isn’t as beautiful as I’d envisioned, Wednesday doesn’t even look human, Pugsley…well, he’s perfect, actually- I can at least appreciate the hard work and contribution of all that were involved. It helped me put my own bias in check and realize that it’s beautiful in it’s own, unexpected way.
Is it good?
Sure, it’s a good book. Is The Addams Family: The Art of the Animated Movie worth buying? If you’re a big fan, absolutely. There are so many incredible shots from the film that I’d pay the $40.00 for just to hang on the wall. The concept art is incredible and one of the best images in the whole book is the recreation of the 1958 Charles Addams comic, “Lurch Tree.” The biggest surprise lays under the dust cover- the scene is jaw droppingly beautiful.
I can’t say it enough: there’s just so much incredible art packed between the cover of this book. Despite my initial misgivings, I’m glad I read it. I can’t wait to be able to look for those detailed things in the movie that I might have otherwise missed. I hope the movie will be as enjoyable for my kids as the prints in this book were for me.