The Addams Family traces its origins to a 1930s New Yorker comic strip by Charles Addams (hence the name). But to the Irish public they will be best known for a couple of super funny 1990s moviesfeaturing Anjelica Huston as grieving matriarch Morticia Addams and Christina Ricci as her soul-wilting daughter, on Wednesday.
The spirit of those macabrely light-hearted movies gets a Gen Z twist on Wednesday (Netflix, streaming from Nov. 23). Here, Jenna Ortega takes up Ricci’s mantle of goth girl. The 20-year-old is a natural in the role of a kinky teen who gets revenge on bullies by unleashing piranhas in her swim class, who never saw a tombstone she didn’t want to hug or a big hairy spider she didn’t want. . I want to snuggle.
With Wednesday, Tim Burton puts recent disappointments behind him and goes back to basics. The shadows are long and creepy, the mood drier than a freshly dug up fibula.
The gothic fun is directed by Tim Burton. He, of course, has a background in emo-escapism as a director of Edward Scissorhands and the creator of the nightmare before christmas. He directs four of eight episodes and is an executive producer.
With Wednesday, put recent disappointments behind you. Did you know that she adapted the Ransom Riggs book? Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? – and goes back to the basics of Burton. The shadows are long and creepy, the mood drier than a freshly dug up fibula. A richly rococo soundtrack comes courtesy of Burton’s regular complement, Danny Elfman. It’s so deliciously Burtonesque you almost expect his longtime collaborator Johnny Depp to show up dressed as a rock and roll zombie.
Wednesday is more of an Addams Family spin-off than a faithful continuation of the brand. We are introduced to the imposing “family”: Catherine Zeta-Jones as Morticia, Luis Guzmán as Gomez, and Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester. But this is Wednesday’s story. The rest of her brood have a mostly supporting role (although Zeta-Jones completely dominates the screen when she appears in half of an entire episode).
Resting all the effort on Ortega’s shoulders like Wednesday is a big task. However, she is up to the task and is a revelation as Wednesday, whose disruptive behavior at school prompts her family to take her to Nevermore Academy. The supposed alma mater of Edgar Allan Poe (“Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore'” is a line from Poe’s poem The Raven), this is a college for magical outcasts. True to that billing, it seems like something the Brothers Grimm could come up with if forced to read all of the Harry Potter novels back to back.
The atmosphere is very ghoul for summer, as Wednesday has to deal with bullies, academic rivals and love interests, including the normie son of the local sheriff (Hunter Doohan). Adolescence is, of course, a horror story in itself. In Wednesday’s case, it features terrors like crippling introversion and self-esteem issues. (His haughtiness of her is rooted in fear of rejection.)
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a literal monster in the woods, tearing apart passers-by. Our horrifying heroine is quick to make a connection between the murders and the goings-on at her school. However, if there is a cover-up, who is behind it?
Nevermore, like institutions everywhere, has closets full of skeletons. These secrets are protected by Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie). Playing a sort of morally ambivalent Dumbledore, Christie does it perfectly, as does Ricci’s grunge-era Wednesday, as a kooky (and Tori Amos-like) teacher obsessed with Venus flytrap.
Still, the real star is Ortega, who brings pale Wednesday to life as a lost girl with a complicated social life. It all adds up to a terrifyingly attractive watch and suggests, as a bonus, that Tim Burton might have brought back the macabre mojo from him.