The Addams family originated in a 1930s New Yorker cartoon by Charles Addams (hence the name). But to Irish audiences they will be best known from a pair of super-droll films from the 1990s, starring Anjelica Huston as mournful matriarch Morticia Addams and Christina Ricci as her soul-shrinking daughter, Wednesday.
The spirit of these eerily happy films receives a Gen Z twist on Wednesday (Netflix, streaming November 23). Here, the little goth girl’s Ricci cape is captured by Jenna Ortega. The 20-year-old is a natural in the role of a sickly teenager who gets revenge on bullies by unleashing piranhas in their swimming class, who never saw a tombstone she didn’t want to hug or a big hairy spider she hadn’t seen. want to cuddle.
With Wednesday, Tim Burton puts recent disappointments behind him and returns to basics. The shadows are long and sinister, the humor drier than a recently dissolved fibula
The gothic fun is organized by Tim Burton. He, of course, has a record of emo escapism as the director of Edward Scissorhands and the creator of The Nightmare Before Christmas. He directs four out of eight episodes and is an executive producer.
With Wednesday, he puts recent disappointments behind him – did you even realize he adapted Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? – and returns to Burton basics. The shadows are long and sinister, the humor drier than a recently dissolved fibula. A rich rococo soundtrack is courtesy of Burton regular foil Danny Elfman. It’s so deliciously Burtonian that you almost expect his old collaborator Johnny Depp to cut through performed as a rock’n’roll zombie.
Wednesday is more Addams Family spin-off than faithful continuation of the brand. We are introduced to the forbidden “fam”: 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 progeny largely have a supporting role (although Zeta-Jones completely dominates the screen when she shows up for an entire episode halfway through).
Resting the entire effort on Ortega’s shoulders like Wednesday is a big ask. However, she is up to the task and is a revelation as Wednesday, whose disruptive behavior at school causes her family to pack her off to Nevermore Academy. Edgar Allan Poe’s supposed alma mater (“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 looks like something the Brothers Grimm might make if forced to read all the Harry Potter novels back to back.
The mood is very lighthearted this summer as Wednesday must contend 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 the case of Wednesday, it offers such horrors as crippling introversion and self-esteem issues. (Her hauteur is rooted in a fear of rejection.)
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a literal monster in the woods that tears passers-by apart. Our horrified heroine is quick to make a connection between the murders and what is going on at her school. However, if there is a cover-up, who is behind it?
Nevermore, like institutions everywhere, has closets overflowing with skeletons. These secrets are protected by Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie). Christie plays a kind of morally ambivalent Dumbledore and does it to perfection – as does Ricci, the grunge-era Wednesday, as a flashy teacher (and Tori Amos lookalike) with a Venus flytrap obsession.
Yet the true star is Ortega, who brings the pale Wednesday to life as a lost girl with a complicated social life. It all adds up to a terrifyingly compelling watch – and, as a bonus, suggests that Tim Burton may have regained his macabre mojo.