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Revisiting "The Addams Family" (1991)

As everybody gears up for Halloween this year, I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect on one of my childhood favorites, The Addams Family.  It's pretty much the perfect movie to show to small kids on or near Halloween if you want to foster their fascination with the morbid.

It has been easily twenty years since I last watched this movie before we put it on Netflix a couple of weeks ago.  Even though I generally remembered all the major story beats and most of the dialogue, I had somehow completely lost my grip on the movie's overall tone and atmosphere.

To be honest, it's not really all that funny.  There's a couple of great gags that hold up, but quite frankly, every other scene is basically just, "I'm about to say something mundane.  No wait, I'm actually being really dark right now.  Ha."  After my sullen teenage years and my depressing, brow-beating twenties, I've been through the wringer too much to find that kind of "twisted" play on expectations either charming or hilarious.

And yet, the movie overall is a joy and still stands as a worthwhile watch. Mainly this is a credit to the phenomenal cast - there is not a single part that wasn't acted to perfection.  The director and actors take what is kind of a garbage script and elevate it to something charismatic and captivating.  In that way, it's very much like the Abrams Star Trek.

The reason to watch this isn't to laugh, but to dive into the spirit of the season.  It's kinda like Halloween Horror, only far more family friendly.  So I guess I need to call it "Halloween Humor?"  (While I'm on this tangent, another movie I recently rewatched, Monster House, is pretty much the exact same thing... except that one has some wretched dead-eye animation that holds it back.  Still, you do a double feature between that and Addams Family and I'm pretty sure you'll keep your kids hooked for a few hours.)

The other reason to watch is if you happened to be a kid in the early nineties.  This gave me such a nostalgia blast that I think I got whiplash.  I don't want to say that nostalgia is rare for me - I have wistful moments every other day - but it is rare that I feel so transported back to my youth that I can barely think straight.  This must be the high that all those Transformers and GI Joe fans keep chasing, huh?

As usual, the perspective shift in watching something beloved from my childhood as an adult has revealed to me the shocking truth that I was kind of an idiot as a kid.

(Technically there are spoilers ahead, but you should really know better than to be shocked.)  If you recall, the plot is that Uncle Fester disappeared twenty-five years ago and now a con artist named Gordon - who bears a striking resemblance to Fester - is scheming to steal the family fortune by pretending to be the missing Addams.  He claims that he was dredged up from the Bermuda Triangle in a tuna net and has been trying to get home ever since.

Shenanigans ensue, and then in the final showdown with his con artist partners, Gordon gets struck in the head by magic lightning.  Fast forward a few minutes and Gomez reveals that Gordon's cover story wasn't actually a lie: he was Uncle Fester the whole time, except that he lost his memory twenty-five years ago.

As an adult, I find this to be a stupid and kinda contrived way to end the story, but ultimately inoffensive since the plot isn't really the main attraction.  "Okay, now he's back home, whatever. Can somebody be creepy now?  No?  Okay, I'll settle for kooky."

As a kid, however, this line never made sense to me.  I remember always being thrown off by Gomez's line of dialogue: "Don't you see? Dr. Pinder-Schloss really did find Fester in that net twenty-five years ago... [wry smile] with amnesia."

It's not that I couldn't believe Gordon actually was Fester.  It's more that I didn't understand why the movie was telling us.  Like, I took it for granted that Gordon was Fester the whole time and I just assumed everybody else did, too.  I somehow thought that was the entire point of the movie - that everybody, including Gordon, knew Gordon was Fester from the beginning and they were just kinda screwing around the whole time.  And it's not like I didn't know there was a scam involved... I knew the bad guys were con artists, but I had this cognitive dissonance thing that allowed the plot to still take place in a world where Fester's true identity was common knowledge.

So when Gomez says "...with amnesia," my little kid brain would always say, "But if he had amnesia, how did he know he was Fester?"

Suddenly a fairly stock movie plot with only one level of deception became a multi-layered web of deceit, with multiple hidden identities and plot reveals, each one more sinister and shocking than the last.  And I'd get so confused that I'd have to go lie down and eat candy.

I'm hoping that doesn't happen to any of your kids if you plan on showing this to them.  But then again, they're probably smarter than me.

Hope y'all enjoy your candy.  Happy Halloween!

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