Given that it’s the spookiest month of the year, I thought it’d be a good time to do a brief retrospective on the more obscure adaptations of Charles Addams’ hilariously dark comic strip. Everyone and their grandmother has taken a look at the classic TV show from the 60’s and the superb Barry Sonnenfeld movies from the 90’s, so I thought it’d be neat to have a look at the stuff in-between.
The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972-73) is pretty damn weird in and of itself; the second Scooby series, it not only had a very self-aware theme tune (All the stars are here/waiting for you/couldn’t have a show without ya!) teamed the cowardly Great Dane and his pals with all kinds of off-beat and/or hip celebrities such as Batman & Robin, Mama Cass, Sonny & Cher, Davy Jones, The Harlem Globetrotters… even Laurel & Hardy, and they’d been dead for years when the show came out.
However, it wasn’t all dead celebrities and camp superheroes. Not only did Hanna Barbera manage to persuade Charles Addams to let this bizarre crossover even exist, but they also got most of the original actors from the TV show to voice their roles again – Anthony Magro (Cousin Itt) was replaced (let’s be honest, anyone can do that voice), Blossom Rock (Grandmama) was pushing 80 at the time and had retired from acting soon after The Addams Family ended, whilst Lisa Loring (Wednesday) and Ken Weatherwax (Pugsley) were of course too old (as an aside, I should mention that Weatherwax died in early December 2014).
The plot itself starts off as typical Scooby-Doo hokum: one foggy night, The Mystery Machine breaks down near a creepy house, and they have to go to a nearby spooky house to ask for gas… except this house is 0001 Cemetery Lane, and The Addams Family are at home to visitors – in a pleasant yet curious bending of the fourth wall, Daphne exclaims “I know why this house seems so familiar – it belongs to The Addams Family!”, to which Fred replies “You’re right! I’ve seen it on TV lots of times!”). However, all is not well in Chez Addams – Gomez and Morticia can’t make their weekend vacation to the Okefenokee Swamp, thanks to their housekeepers quitting. They also have to deal with The Vulture, who is trying to scare them (yes, you read that correctly – somebody trying to scare The Addams Family) and has apparently abducted Wednesday.
But you’re not watching this for an involving and gripping narrative. You’re watching it to see Scooby-Doo et al. react to a family that’s not only creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky but altogether ooky to boot, and it doesn’t disappoint. I’m not saying this particular crossover is pitch-perfect, but it’s on the right side of silly, even if The Addams Family’s humour holds up better than Scooby’s. Sadly, it appears that this episode will never be released on DVD, so if you want to watch it you’ll have to make do with less than legal means.
Hanna Barbera, apparently buoyed by their success with a crossover at once unexpected and completely logical, decided to push the boat out with an animated series the following year. However, not content merely to do more of the same thing, they decided to mix things up and have the family travel across the good ol’ US of A in a mobile home that bore a suspicious resemblance to The Creepy Coupe from Wacky Races. The family was also expanded upon with new pets Ali the Alligator and Ocho the Octopus, because this was Hanna Barbera – of course there were going to be wacky animal sidekicks.
As to the show itself… well, it’s the sort of thing you can’t help but damn with faint praise. There’s nothing especially wrong with it – they managed to get Jackie Coogan and Ted Cassidy back to reprise their roles as Fester and Lurch, and Janet Waldo does an okay job of replacing Carolyn Jones as Morticia. On the other hand, they swapped out John Astin for Lennie Weinrib, who would later go on to voice Scrappy Doo, which is hardly a fair trade-off.
Then there’s the inescapable fact that this iteration of The Addams Family is even more pared down than their run-in with Mystery Inc. Here are some plots from the show, to demonstrate what I mean:
- The Addams Family compete in a drag race
- Thing is accidentally baked into a loaf of Morticia’s Eerie Egg Bread
- The Addams Family compete in a hot air balloon race
- Fester makes a rocket with which his family travel to the moon, after buying land there
- The Addams Family compete in The Kentucky Derby
I’ll admit I’m cherrypicking the most innocuously generic episodes, but to be honest the rest aren’t that much better. I realise Hanna Barbera liked to make things kid-friendly, but even when I was a young lad watching this on a rented VHS (God, I feel old just typing that…) I knew that I was being short-changed, and that The Addamses were capable of so much more.
The show only lasted 16 episodes. High production costs? Low ratings? Charles Addams realised he’d signed off on something that was a bit shit? Who knows? More importantly, who cares? Either way, it spawned a 3-issue comic book ongoing from Gold Key (to date, it remains the franchise’s only foray into that medium) and has been released in its entirety on manufacture-on-demand DVD (missing the Scooby-Doo crossover – a serious mis-step).