The mini-series Wednesday, that Netflix broadcasts from November 23, is expected by fans of Tim Burton as well as those of The Addams Familywhich have a lot in common.
It features the eldest of Morticia and Gomez Addams. Expelled from a high school “normed” (normal people like you and me), she integrates the academy of Nevermore devoted to her fellows: the marginalized, freak, vampires and other werewolves…
It is not known if Charles Addams ever saw beetle juice. The Addams Family creator died on September 30, 1988, six months after the release of the feature film that revealed Tim Burton.
But if that’s the case, Charles Addams must have loved this gothic fantasy comedy, where a couple must haunt their mansion for 125 years.
The designer of New Yorker would certainly have appreciated Tim Burton’s discreet homage to her: Lydia, the goth teenager played by the young Winona Ryder, was a spiritual cousin of her Wednesday Addams, “insightful, intelligent and misunderstood”.
Two aborted projects
Tim Burton has long been stamping his feet behind the door of the Addams family mansion. Unsurprisingly, his name topped the list for the first big-screen adaptation, released in 1991.
But he then declines the tempting proposal, because he has to shoot the sequel to his first Batman. Twenty years later, in 2010, it was announced that he was working on an animated film project of The Addams Family in stop motion.
When this project fell through, Burton consoles himself with the long version of his short film Frankenweenie (2012) and Dark Shadows (2012). These two films share with The Addams Family the same gothic and macabre spirit.
When MGM Television and producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar began work on a Wednesday Addams series, Burton’s name came naturally.
“Wednesday Addams and Tim Burton are the perfect marriage” can assure without fear today Miles Millar, co-producer with Alfred Gough of Wednesday.
“The Addams symbolize how I feel about family” assures Tim Burton. “I particularly like Mercredi, because it shares my vision of the world”.
Every wry Wednesday line against normality or any social or regulatory order seems to come from Burton’s mouth.
The series feels like a metaphor for the director’s adolescence, as in this Wednesday commentary from the first episode: “I don’t know who had the twisted idea of cramming teenagers into underfunded high schools, surrounded by unmotivated teachers. But I admire his sadism”.
An Antithesis of the American Family
The Addams Family has always been nonconformist. It constitutes an ironic criticism of American middle-class norms, tinged with dark humour.
Gomez, Morticia and their children Wednesday and Pugsley are born, in the pages of the magazine New Yorker, from the imagination of cartoonist Charles “Chas” Addams (1912-1988).
They appear from 1938 in cartoons, unique drawings that illustrate the articles of the famous magazine. They will appear in all in some 150 drawings over a period of half a century (it is estimated that Addams provided ten times as many illustrations to the New Yorker).
Charles Addams had no set plan. He created his gallery of gothic characters according to his inspiration. The first names appeared little by little. The imaginary family will take the name of Addams by metonymy with its creator.
With his family with macabre tastes and bizarre practices, Charles Addams aroused humor by the shift. The Addams are the comically absurd antithesis of American middle-class ideals.
This is a family with aristocratic attitudes, fascinated by the macabre, follower of refined bad taste and obsolete traditions, surrounded by a bizarre menagerie (vulture, spiders, scorpions, piranhas, carnivorous plants…).
Charles Addams drew inspiration for the decor from his hometown of Westfield, New Jersey, where there are many Victorian mansions and archaic Protestant cemeteries.
The popularity of Addams’ drawings led to the publication of books. The television series The Addams Family then enters American homes. It will be broadcast for two seasons from 1964 and then rebroadcast several times.
Carolyn Jones and John Astin portray Morticia and Gomez. Former Jackie Coogan Kid by Chaplin, plays Uncle Fétide. Wednesday and Pugsley are played by Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax. Small gag of the credits: the amputated and living hand named “the Thing” is credited as being interpreted by “itself”.
In doing so, Gomez, Morticia, and their offspring enter American popular culture. Three years after the death of Charles Addams, The Addams Family (1991) by Barry Sonnenfeld inaugurates the vein of film adaptations of cult series of yesteryear.
The film reveals in the role of Wednesday Addams the young Christina Ricci, then aged eleven. His character takes on additional thickness in the sequel, Addams Family Values (1993), still signed by Sonnenfeld.
Forced to go to summer camp with her brother Pugsley, Mercredi sabotages the performance of a play devoted to the origins of the American holiday of Thanksgiving.
Wednesday persists and signs in the new Netflix series, where she does a similar fate to the Pilgrims who colonized the future United States, “religious fanatics”erected as stars of an amusement park that “whitewashes America’s history” says the kid to a group of German tourists.
Irreverent? Maybe. On the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 series, the Time however, did not hesitate to put the heritage of the Addams in the cultural unconscious of the United States on the same footing as the Roosevelts and the Kennedys.