The Many Shades of Wednesday Addams

Twenty-six years after their last big-screen outing, the Addams Family is back in theaters. And yes, still creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky (now also digitally animated). The family, created by the cartoonist Charles Addams, has been featured across magazines, films, television and a stage musical over the last 80 years, but no character has been portrayed quite as differently as the daughter, Wednesday — from a cherubic little girl in the 1960s to a stern and frightening adolescent in the 1990s to a lovesick teenager in the 2010s. Here’s a closer look at how Wednesday has been depicted in many variations by those writing, drawing and playing her.

The New Yorker (1938-1988)

In Charles Addams’s drawings, Wednesday wore a conservative collared dress and had an oval-shaped head with dark hair framing the side of her face. While other Addams Family members had white circles with black pupils for eyes, Wednesday had small black ovals, which gave the character a more melancholy appearance. Many of her popular interests were first introduced in the pages of The New Yorker, including her fondness for beheading dolls, her interest in octopi and her antagonistic relationship with her brother, Pugsley. Addams, by the way, didn’t name any of the Addams Family characters until they were developed for television in the 1960s. He named Wednesday after the nursery rhyme “Monday’s Child,” which includes the line “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.”

‘The Addams Family’ Series (1964-1966)

In 1964, ABC introduced the first live-action Addams Family television series, which debuted a week before another spooky family sitcom, “The Munsters.” In the pilot episode, Wednesday (Lisa Loring) is the first member of the family to appear onscreen, and she welcomes a visitor to her family’s not-so-humble abode. While the show hints at the character having a darker edge, Wednesday, as played by the 6-year-old Loring, is mostly just adorable. Even when she talks about chopping off her doll’s head or feeding her pet spider, there’s an inherent sweetness to her. The television series primarily focused on the matters of Wednesday’s parents, Gomez and Morticia (John Astin and Carolyn Jones), so Loring’s screen time was rather limited throughout the two-season run. In one memorable highlight, Wednesday shows off some truly unexpected moves when she teaches the family’s butler, Lurch, to dance. The show was canceled in 1966, but Loring played the role once more in the 1977 reunion special, “Halloween with the New Addams Family.”

‘The Addams Family’ Animated Series (1973)

NBC resurrected the Addams Family for a brief stint with this children’s series, produced by Hanna-Barbera. The show took great liberties with the characters: Instead of staying cooped up, the Addamses traveled around the country in an RV that looks like their house, all while having various supernatural adventures. The Wednesday of this series resembled Addams’s drawings in appearance, but instead of her classic dark get-up, she was costumed in bright pink. Additionally, she was given a much sunnier disposition. In one episode, the family even visits a roller derby for her birthday. The show only lasted 16 episodes.

‘The Addams Family’ (1991) and ‘Addams Family Values’ (1993)

For the first Addams Family feature film, Wednesday received a reinvention that hued much closer to the dark sense of humor in Charles Addams’s cartoons. As played by Christina Ricci, then 10 years old, Wednesday is a sadistic preteen exhibiting dry, deadpan wit and a taste for torture. With her pale skin, wide forehead and sullen demeanor, Ricci looks like an Addams drawing come to life. She is easily the movie’s breakout character, voicing whatever thoughts come to her mind and not caring what anyone else thinks. In both the 1991 film and its sequel, “Addams Family Values,” Wednesday engages in activities far more unsettling than either of her previous incarnations: She electrocutes Pugsley; drops her baby brother, Pubert, from the roof; buries a cat alive; and takes down the cultural insensitivity of Thanksgiving in a way that ends with a summer camp in flames. The role effectively launched Ricci’s career, and this Wednesday would prove to be influential for an entire generation of sullen teenage girls.

‘The Addams Family' on Broadway (2010)

While the Addams Family appeared in another animated series, a direct-to-video film and another live-action series, their next biggest cultural moment was the debut of a musical on Broadway in 2010. Now portrayed as an 18-year-old, Wednesday has fallen in love with a “normal” guy, and the plot involves her bringing him home to meet the family. Krysta Rodriguez originated the role on Broadway, and in perhaps the greatest stylistic departure of all the Wednesdays, her hair was cut into a short bob rather than maintaining her trademark braids. The lovestruck teenager take on the character would likely have made Ricci’s Wednesday scoff — her big solo in the musical even shares that she’s developing a growing interest in Disney World and Chia Pets.

‘The Addams Family’ (2019)

In the new film, Wednesday (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) is designed closer to Charles Addams’s cartoons, with some notable flourishes: Her trademark black braids now end in nooses, which were a recurring item in many of Addams’s drawings, and her dress is embroidered with tiny skulls on the hemline. She still maintains her interests in shooting crossbows and setting things on fire, but she also develops a desire to experience the outside world, which causes some friction with her mother. Whereas other teenage girls would cut their hair and start wearing black, rebellion for this Wednesday is wearing pink and donning a unicorn barrette.

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