After the various attempts during the 70’s to revitalise The Addams Family brand, it was followed by a time of relative quiet for Charles Addams; he had his tenth anthology of cartoons (entitled Creature Comforts) published in 1981, made the occasional appearance at comic book conventions, and died of a heart attack in late September 1988, just over six months after my birthday. He was 76.
The Addams Family, in their ubiquitous perversity, carried on not too long after the death of their creator; there was the NES game Fester’s Quest, which in a stroke of what The Addamses would consider genius, had almost nothing to do with The Addams Family (Fester fights aliens, with cameos from his relatives throughout the game) and was absurdly difficult to the point of being almost unplayable. Fortunately, the Tim Burton movies of the 90’s managed to not only salvage the brand, but elevate it to the same glory of its heyday in the 60’s.
However, whilst the Burton films are deservedly praised (whether or not they’re his best works is a bone of contention), there was something inbetween them – in 1992, to be precise – that is worth mentioning. No, not the pinball table (although I’d love to play a physical version of that…) but the first TV series based on the family that really is a scree-um for almost two decades, as well as the second by Hanna-Barbera.
As you can see, this show took a noticeable departure from previous adaptations, mostly concessions to modern sensibilities; the original characters designs had been tweaked into something that could allow for more expressive animation (limited animation was fine for the cash-strapped Hanna-Barbera of the 70’s, but the slick Hanna-Barbera of the 90’s was a horse of a different colour), and Grandmama (voiced by Carol Channing, of all people) in particular was turned into a sharper-minded matriarch with crazy hair and a more antagonistic attitude to Fester (the ebullient Rip Taylor).
Other additions to the series were making the darker aspects of the source material a little sillier – this was a kid’s show, after all; The Addams’ antagonistic and aggressively straight-laced neighbours Norman (underwear company CEO) and Normina (neurotic housewife) Normanmeyer (and their more friendly son Norman Jr. who was understanding of the eccentricities of The Addamses); one of Cousin Itt’s many occupations was secret agent… and the Addams Family Dances, which were performed at the end of each episode… unless it was a Friday. Or they were out of mayonnaise.
However, this was just window dressing to appeal to a modern audience. Vic Mizzy’s theme tune was back with a vengeance (and sung in an appropriately macabre style – a world away from the rather whitebread quartet of the original show), Lurch still said “You rang?” in those dulcet tones (although sometimes the ring was replaced with such sounds as a car backfiring or a foghorn) and Gomez (voiced once again by John Astin – the other original cast members had either grown up or, sadly, passed away) still got all hot and bothered whenever Morticia (Nancy Linari, who had a small role in The Social Network) spoke French… or anything close enough.
Perhaps it’s because this was my first real introduction to The Addamses, but I can’t find many faults with this particular adaptation. There was real heart to it, and looking back you can tell that the voice actors were having a blast just reading their lines. If the overall tone was a little lighter than the original, they made up for it by taking advantage of the medium – having Thing be even more mobile and Lurch more unintentionally destructive, Fester pulling a komodo dragon out of his coat pocket so he could find something he’d mislaid, and even the annual Addams Family jousts, was all on the right side of silly.
Sadly, Time Warner (who now own all Hanna-Barbera shows) have yet to give this show the DVD release it so dearly deserves. Come on, guys… make a manufacture on demand boxset in time for Halloween 2017, or put it on Amazon Instant, or something.