Hanna-Barbera (1973), Warner Archive (October 19, 2010), 4 discs, 480 mins, 1.33:1 ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, Not Rated, Retail: $29.95
Charles Addams’ cartoon creations travel the country, spreading their brand of morbid humor throughout the United States.
The Sweatbox Review:
While most people may know of The Addams Family from the kooky 1964-1966 TV series, the characters had a long history in the pages of The New Yorker beginning in 1938. They were still showing up there (with interruptions) until the death of creator Charles Addams in 1988. Addams’ ghoulish sense of humor informed the single panel cartoons, and the panel’s popularity led to the 1960s television adaptation. For the purposes of the show, the family members were finally given names for the first time, making them at least somewhat more identifiable to the average TV viewer. The show took Addams’ offbeat family and situations and brought an increased visual inventiveness, while also ascribing to typical sitcom plots— with a definite twist. The show was practically a cartoon in live action form, but the true cartoon show would come a few years later from Hanna-Barbera.
Adaptations of popular properties were big in the 1970s, and the TV version of The Addams Family was a natural, being full of nutty characters, over-the-top situations, and plenty of sight gags and bad puns. After a tryout on 1972’s The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries, the Addams clan got their own show in 1973. The characters retained their names from the live action show, but the designs were clearly based directly on Charles Addams’ drawings. There’s Gomez, the chubby and charismatic patriarch of the clan; his slinky wife Morticia; children Wednesday and Pugsley; dim but lovable Uncle Fester; supportive Grandmama; and Cousin Itt, who is by all appearances a walking pile of hair, wearing a hat. The Addams family also have two servants— the butler Lurch, who looks something like the Frankenstein monster, and Thing, who is simply a hand that pokes out of boxes or various crevices.
The family and their servants seem out of step with reality, indulging in their morbid fascinations while at the same time finding distaste in what others find wholesome. Though they seem rather spooky, they are in fact loving and generous. They’re also wealthy, which may be the one thing that redeems them in the eyes of many, and helps them to buy their way out of various fixes. That they seem oblivious to their oddness is part of their charm.
While the live action show kept things relatively close to home, Hanna-Barbera’s show took the crew on the road, with Gomez driving the family around the United States in what could easily be referred to as a Spookymobile, melding a haunted house with a roadster. This gave them many opportunities to interact with average Americans in a variety of settings, from the Kentucky Derby to roller derby. The plots were typically nutty, such as when they help Lurch become a rock star, or when they join the circus. A typical plot often has them encountering criminals who hope to take advantage of the Addams’ naïveté, such as when a hobo sells the m Central Park, but the crooks always end up regretting it as they become inundated with the bizarre kindness of the family.
This show came out at a time where Hanna-Barbera was very productive, but not really doing its best work. There were simply too many shows to do, with too little talent available, with too little time to do good work. The Addams Family is a perfect example of some good ideas gone to waste with weak scripts and poor drawing. Honestly, sometimes the artwork is truly amateurish. The stories are generally fair, but the charm comes from the characters and not so much from the actual plot or humor. It’s hard not to like the show, due to its kooky nature, but this is not one of the studio’s stronger efforts. The look of the show is almost uniformly drab and uninteresting. And, while Charles Addams’ drawings definitely poke through these character models, the talent of the artists on the show make it all look rather boring.
This cartoon will certainly be fun to revisit, for those with fond memories of the show, but a blind buy is not so recommended. There are better buys out there, unless you have a strong interest in the characters from other incarnations, and want to see how they fared in their first cartoon show.
Is This Thing Loaded?
This is a Warner Archive release (available only online), so we can’t expect any bonus material. At least the menu is specifically designed for this release, though it is still kept pretty simple, as you can see. Still, it makes the DVD release nicer than WA’s usual previous standard, boring menu screen.
The Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection banner flies proudly on this release, helping it look somewhat close to being a normal retail release. The set uses a standard-size keepcase, with two double-sided swinging trays that hold the four DVDs without overlapping them. The discs are each labelled with the titles of the contained episodes, four episodes per disc. For an Archive release, I was quite pleased with the presentation.
Ink And Paint:
The transfers, despite not being restored, come off quite good. The prints used are in fairly good shape, and though one must expect the dust and scratches common to this time period of television animation, the results here are really quite nice. Detail may be somewhat lacking, owing to the age of the materials, but in motion these really look quite satisfactory, with no significant damage and only minor aliasing artifacts.
The two-channel mono sound, in English only with no subtitles, is pleasingly free of hiss. Perhaps the best part of the show is the vocal performances, featuring such talents as Pat Harrington Jr., Janet Waldo, Jodie Foster (!), and Don Messick. Jackie Coogan and Ted Cassidy reprise their roles from the live action show, as Fester and Lurch.
The first animated version of The Addams Family is kind of fun, but not terribly good. The humor is of a pretty mild variety, interesting only for its macabre nature. The drawing and animation is sub par, but at least there are the usual great Hanna-Barbera voice performances, which just about save the show. Recommended for fans of the characters, or H-B completists.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
The Addams Family may also be ordered directly from Warner Archive.