Almost 100 years ago, cartoonist Charles Addams created a small cartoon for The New Yorker that featured a creepy and kooky household: “The Addams Family.” After their first appearance, this weird cast of characters went on to entertain people for decades. There was the 1960s live-action show, the 1970s cartoon and the ’90s film franchise which secured the Addams’ as a household name. Netflix recently brought back “The Addams Family” for a new generation of fans with the show “Wednesday.”
Why is the Addams family so intriguing? Originally conceived as an alternative to mainstream culture’s depiction of families, the dark and bizarre antics of the characters drew fans in as they chuckled along with the macabre humor. As the series developed, it became obvious that the family is a truly wholesome bunch; the parents are deeply in love with each other and spend copious amounts of time and attention doting on their children. The extended family is not excluded from this love, as the spooky mansion doors are always open to anyone who needs a place to crash after leaving the psych ward or even prison. Evidence of their closeness can be found in the Addams family motto: “Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc” (We gladly feast on those who would subdue us). They don’t appear to notice or care when people find their behavior bizarre, and they are equally accepting of others even if they don’t share the same lifestyle.
Now that Netflix has released “Wednesday,” there are a million more reasons to love “The Addams Family.” Producer and director Tim Burton’s new adaptation of the franchise follows a teenage Wednesday Addams as she struggles to fit into different schools before ending up at her parents’ alma mater, Nevermore. Nevermore is a refuge school that houses “outcasts” with varying degrees of weirdness, including werewolves, monsters and sirens. As soon as Wednesday arrives, trouble follows when students, transients and citizens of the “totally normal” town of Jericho are brutally murdered. Wednesday takes it upon herself to solve the crimes and bring relative peace back to the creepy school.
The cast of “Wednesday” is nothing short of brilliant. Jenna Ortega as Wednesday is the perfect combination of eerie and brilliant, and her Wednesday is the poster child for goth kids. The other Addams’ appear infrequently, but light up the screen whenever they’re present. Comedian Luis Guzman plays Gomez Addams, Catherine Zeta Jones plays Morticia Adams and Fred Armisen plays Wednesday’s wacky Uncle Fester. Nevermore’s principal is played by Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma and Brienne of Tarth) who leaps out of her typical “type” and into a role that features her as a classic beauty with brains and … no spoilers! The most iconic casting choice is Christina Ricci as dorm mother Marilyn Thornhill; Ricci delivered what was probably the most famous portrayal of Wednesday Addams in the 90s. Her inclusion in the series will have older millennial hearts bursting with excitement and nostalgia.
In the era of girl-boss heroes, Netflix and Burton have brought a new classic to the small screen with “Wednesday”. Millie Bobby Brown has been the Netflix darling for the past 5 years due to her success in portraying heroines such as Eleven (Stranger Things) and Enola Holmes. Enola, the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, holds her own against her famous brother’s detective skills while solving her own mysteries. Similarly, Emma Roberts brought another female teen detective to the big screen in 2007 with her portrayal of Nancy Drew. While the movie received underwhelming reviews, Nancy Drew has been solving crimes since the 1930s, and has remained a beloved character throughout 175 classic books.
Beyond the broody Wednesday or the plucky Enola, smart girls come in all forms. Reese Witherspoon proved that women are capable of anything that they set their minds to, including getting into Harvard Law School (What? Like it’s hard?) in “Legally Blonde.” Since Elle (and Bruiser) Woods first lit up the screen, the franchise has received a sequel and even a hit Broadway musical.
Likewise, Lindsay Lohan’s performance as Cady Heron in “Mean Girls” showed us that even homeschooled kids from Africa can climb social ladders and exceed expectations. The movie features amazing female characters like Janice Ian, the artsy goth girl; Ms. Norbury, the exhausted and underpaid math teacher who’s just trying to inspire high schoolers; and even Gretchen Weiners, who ends up learning that the value of true friendship is not found in popularity.
“Wednesday” surpasses these other works through its dedication to equal representation. While all the aforementioned characters have wildly differing personalities, they all check the same boxes when it comes to ethnicity. Burton has been repeatedly criticized for his insensitive depiction of Black characters, but it appears that the director has taken some of these criticisms to heart. The cast of “Wednesday” is incredibly diverse without being patronizing.
“Wednesday” is the first of many steps needed to bring diversity to young female characters in fiction. Role models matter and the entertainment industry has gone a long way to make sure that girls see themselves as smart, courageous and strong. It’s long overdue for all girls to see themselves in their heroes.