Review by KC Carlson
It’s quite exciting to see the Warner Archive experimenting with some cult animation series like the recent Thundarr the Barbarian, Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, and this quirky 1973 Addams Family cartoon series. There’s quite a network of animation fans/collectors/historians out there trying to properly document some of these long-lost or seldom aired shows, as well as a huge wave of nostalgia for the beloved shows of their youth. Warners has been exceptionally kind to the animation fan over the years, with numerous releases including the classic Warner Bros. cartoons (Bugs, Daffy, etc.), Tom & Jerry and other MGM classics, the classic Hanna-Barbera TV library (Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, Space Ghost), and more recent releases by their new animation department (Batman, Justice League, Animaniacs, new Scooby Doo projects, etc.).
Somewhere between the horrible economy and perhaps a bit too many releases, sales for much of the animation line started to slow, and animation fans have been frustrated with a lack of new product — especially the extension of long-running series. Sales no longer seem to justify mass market releases on many “cult” animation projects, so releasing them through the smaller-scale Warner Archive, where the releases can be specifically targeted to fans looking for material outside the “mainstream” (whatever that is these days…) seems to be a good compromise. And it looks like the Warner Archive will be involved with cult cartoon shows in a very big way in the future. Animation fans should set their bookmarks appropriately.
They’re picking a number of interesting series to start with, although I suspect that in the case of many of these Hanna-Barbera series, there were already long-range plans for mass-market releases before the market dropped out for complete season box sets. Since at least some work had already been done towards their eventual release, these were good choices for projects to dust off and finally let out.
They’re Creepy and They’re Kooky
There have actually been two different Addams Family franchises in operation at various times over the past several decades, with arcane business differences between the two (much too complicated to go into here). Suffice it to say the two different (yet similar) entertainment properties stem from two different sources: The first is the unnamed cartoons of the mysterious, monstrous family that were created directly by cartoonist Charles Addams and ran pretty much exclusively in The New Yorker magazine between 1938 and 1988. The second was the 1964-1966 ABC-TV series based on the characters from the cartoons (that in many cases gave them names for the first time). Although Addams did participate in the naming and wrote detailed character descriptions for the show, he did not have any rights to the depiction of his characters for television and film appearances due to legal wrangling from his ex-wife. This is one of the reasons why the characters (and their relationships to each other) differ slightly from project to project.
After the TV show was canceled in 1966, there were very few new Addams Family appearances — mostly because The New Yorker had elected to stop carrying cartoons of the family in their pages because of the (perceived) unsophisticated nature of the TV program, although they continued to run other cartoons by Addams, and Addams himself produced a handful of cartoons about the family that were published in other magazines. When the Addams Family next appeared on TV, it was in a most unlikely place.
The third episode of The New Scooby Doo Movies (1972) featured the Addams Family as guest stars, with four of the original actors (John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Ted Cassidy, and Jackie Coogan) returning to provide the voices of Gomez, Morticia, Lurch, and Uncle Fester. Instead of being drawn to look like the live-action versions of the characters, they were designed to look more like the original Charles Addams-drawn cartoons. (This wasn’t the first time Hanna-Barbera artists had drawn Addams-like characters. Parodies of the TV family had appeared as Mr. & Mrs. J. Evil Scientist and their brood in Snagglepuss and Snooper and Blabber cartoons, and in the Stone Age, the Gruesomes became The Flintstones‘ new neighbors.) The Scooby Doo appearance was a huge hit, so the following season a new Addams Family animated series debuted on NBC’s Saturday morning line-up.
They’re Altogether Ooky
When this new series appeared, they retained the original Charles Addams designs, but much else had changed. John Astin and Carolyn Jones decided not to commit to the new series, leaving just Jackie Coogan and Ted Cassidy from the original live-action series to reprise their original roles. This was a no-brainer job for Cassidy, who had been doing voice work for Hanna-Barbera since the original series had aired. Some of his other famous voices include Frankenstein Jr., Iggo of The Herculoids, Galactus (on HB’s 1966 Fantastic Four series) and Ben Grimm/The Thing (on the 1978 FF series), various bad guys on shows like Space Ghost, Birdman, and Super Friends, and Godzilla on The Godzilla Show. Classic Star Trek fans will also recognize him as the voices of Balok and The Gorn. Listen carefully while watching these Addams Family episodes, and you can also catch Cassidy’s distinctive voice as some of the bad-guy and incidental characters.
Stepping in for Gomez was long-time voice artist Lennie Weinrib, who provided an annoying, mincing voice that comes off as some bizarre mix of Peter Lorre and Paul Lynde. Weinrib was much better as the voice (and co-writer) of H.R. Pufnstuf, Inch High of Inch High Private Eye fame, and Chet Boyle on Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. More notoriously, he was the first voice of Scrappy-Doo on Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo before being replaced by Don Messick.
Janet Waldo, best known for her now-classic teenage voices of Judy Jetson, Josie (of Pussycats fame), Penelope Pitstop, Lana Lang (in The New Adventures of Superman), and hundreds of others in over 40 years of exceptional voice work, got to stretch her range, taking on both Morticia and Grandmama (as well as being very recognizable as other incidental characters).
Another famous addition to the voice cast of the Addams Family was a young Jodie Foster, although her exact role seems to be in some dispute. She’s often credited as the voice of Pugsley Addams, which would be fitting for her notoriously raspy young voice (see also the original Freaky Friday or Taxi Driver), although some sources have her sharing the role with Ken Weatherwax (Pugsley from the live-action show). In one notoriously inaccurate animation reference book, it is indicated that Pugsley is played by Pat Harrington, Jr. (best known in live action as Schneider on One Day at a Time, but also a long-time animation voice, mostly playing heavies).
Part of the confusion over this stems from the way that Hanna-Barbera did their credits. In order to save money, the credits for the entire series were always presented on-screen for each episode, whether particular voices appeared on that episode or not. Since the voice artists were not identified specifically by character, it was often difficult to match the actor to the character — especially minor, background characters. Or to even know exactly how many episodes any given voice actor actually appeared in. However, it is well-documented that Foster did do voice work for HB in this era. She most certainly was one of the Chan Clan in The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, most likely Anne. Reportedly, she’s also copped to doing voice work (and “other embarrassing things”) as a young actor in an appearance with David Letterman some years ago.
Their House Is a Museum
In the cartoon, their house is actually a car — or more like a big RV-sized Victorian mansion on wheels, which comes with its own bats, vulture, and hovering raincloud, and also creates its own fog. Amusingly, as shown in the opening sequence, the roof pops open, allowing for hydraulics to extend and dig its own shark-infested moat around the car when it parks (with the addition of convenient Instant Swamp Mix). This comes in handy throughout the series as the Addamses are traveling around the country (although we never learn why), so when they pull into a camping area and unload their creepy moat, all of the other campers flee for the hills, assuring that the family is not disturbed during their beauty sleep.
The opening sequence also doesn’t bother with the the traditional (and unmistakable) Vic Mizzy theme song, substituting a completely nondescript piece of instrumental music (although there are faint traces of the classic da-da-da-dum rhythm if you blink your ears).
The show was obviously kid-friendly, focusing a lot on the family’s children, Wednesday and Pugsley, and the critters, especially the cleverly named Ocho the octopus. As the family traveled around the country, taking in the local color, the creatures — Ocho, Ally the alligator, Thing, and occasionally Cousin Itt — would accompany the family on outings. They would see a rock concert in Nashville or visit Hawaii (imagine the entire family in grass skirts) or take in a local roller derby game, where they actually become part of the team. (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen roller derby action rendered in HB limited animation!)
Other locales visited include the Everglades, New Orleans (for Mardi Gras!), and the Kentucky Derby, as well as out west and at sea. A favorite was the episode where Thing accidentally gets baked into a loaf of bread. Silly, goofy, fun kids’ stuff! As is the episode where the Addamses think they have traveled to the moon. And there’s just something inherently weird — yet strangely American — about seeing the Addamses driving past Mount Rushmore. (Having the stone-faced Presidents be scared of them is just icing!)
Not everything in the show works. Wednesday is usually dressed in pink — making her look more like Little Lulu — rather than the classic all-in-black. While it’s good to see the Charles Addams designs for the main cast, the rest of the characters seem to be deliberately ultra-generic looking. This is certainly not one of the better animated HB series (characters in motion — which appear infrequently — are incredibly inconsistent), although it’s really no worse than any other HB series of this era. That this show is remembered at all is because of the strength and love of the original characters and the concept. Which goes a long way — no matter how good or bad the various (and many) different incarnations of the Family there are, the Addamses are always welcome in my house. They truly are “America’s Family”.
Neat… Sweet… Petite
As with most of the Warner Archive projects, The Addams Family is presented “as is” with no special features or remastering of the original animation — although this series looks to be in pretty good shape. Yes, there is the occasional fleck of dust or dirt, but in most instances, they are not distracting for the casual viewer. All 16 episodes of the series are included, spread over four discs and contained in a solid, standard DVD case with inserts to hold the discs. There are no booklet or notes, but how many DVD sets have them anymore? My one quibble for the presentation: episode titles on the (otherwise generic) DVD menus would be very helpful, as the titles only appear printed on the discs themselves — pretty useless once the disc is actually in the player.
Whether you’re an Addams fan, or a HB animation fan, or just nostalgic for your favorite shows from a youthful Saturday morning — look no further. I hope we see a lot more collector/archival sets like this from Warner Archive in the future, because in many cases, this may be our only — or even last — chance to see this material before it is completely forgotten. If you want to see more, don’t hesitate to contact Warner Archive on Twitter with a wish list of your favorite “unavailable” shows or movies.
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