Picks and Pans Review: The Addams Family

updated 12/02/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/02/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia

Ring bells in the graveyards. The Addamses, that close-knit clan created by cartoonist Charles Ad-dams in The New Yorker in the '30s and later popularized in The Addams Family TV series (1964—66), have arrived on the big screen with their joie de mart intact. The movie's plot—an Uncle Fester impostor and his cohorts are after the family's fortune—is merely serviceable, and there's a draggy section when the Addamses are banished from their mansion, but basically the movie is a blast.

Kids especially will revel in the family's blissfully fiendish world, one in which little Wednesday and Pugsley Addams amuse themselves by playing Electric Chair and Guillotine. At a school assembly where other children sing the saccharine "Getting to Know You," the Addams offspring make their parents proud by declaiming Hamlet while hacking limbs off each other with swords and drenching the audience in fake blood.

For adults, the pleasures are more muted. There's a plenitude of witty lines (" 'We feast on those who would subdue us'—not just pretty words," boasts Anjelica Huston as matriarch Morticia, reciting the family motto) and a top-drawer cast (Raul Julia as Gomez, Christopher Lloyd as Fester and Elizabeth Wilson as Abigail Craven) that adroitly negotiates the delicate line between playing camp and character. The actors, helped by first-time director Barry Sonnenfeld, manage to find the hearts, however black, of their cartoon characters. Huston, cadaverously sexy as Morticia, is first among equals though, to be lair, she does have all the best lines. She is, for instance, delighted to attend an auction to raise money for "widows and orphans—we need more of them." The Addamses—we need more of them. (PG-13)

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