The Animated Addams Family brings Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons to life

A hilarious and endearing tale of acceptance, The Addams Family brings Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons to life and will inspire people of all ages to embrace a new idea of what is normal.

For Co-Directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, one of the keys to making a fresh Addams Family film was to go back to the main source: Charles Addams’ creepy, spooky, and altogether kooky New Yorker comics. Starting in the 1930s, his shadowy line drawings delivered a subversive pleasure: dark themes, genius chiaroscuro, and zippy one-liners.

Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan

The approach was unique, for sure — there have been two short-lived animated TV series but never an animated feature film. But what do you do when you’ve got an established property that people know and love that has been turned into live action movies and a TV show and even a Broadway musical? “There’s a nostalgia factor, but it’s not a reboot,” says producer Gail Berman. “I saw it as another way into this world of the Addams family.”

“We went back to the original cartoons to start at the beginning, when he first came up with these characters,” says Vernon. “In every iteration, the Addams were already this congealed family unit. We wanted to actually start them in different places and see how they came to be.”

Tiernan agrees: “Nobody ever really went into, how did Gomez and Morticia meet and how did they end up in the house? An origin story. And that immediately set it apart from other Addams material that had come before. It just started to come alive as soon as that was introduced.”

Added to the brilliant idea to make this an animated film, the team had all the necessary ingredients to breathe new life into this beloved family. “With animation right now, you have more of a believable way to tell stories about things that aren’t necessarily in our world,” says Vernon. “For The Addams Family we started creating moving trees and talking envelopes and at one point, we had tables moving around and shrunken heads that jump up and down and sing. We took all these things the TV show and the live-action movie talked about — you know, that were just kind of like a verbal joke — and we actually brought them in visually and let people see this world. At the time, it probably was too complicated to actually show. With animation, you can show pretty much anything you want.”

“Of course, any filmmaker has to direct people’s attention where they feel they want to direct it to tell the story,” says Tiernan. But medium aside, ultimately, a great story is a great story. “I don’t think there’s any difference between telling a story in a live-action film and a story in an animated film,” says Vernon. “But the story itself,” says Tiernan. “like any good story, has got to have heart, it’s got to have something that people can connect to. And this one definitely does.”

With the vibe of this new film in place, the creative team set about figuring out how to adapt the original Addams-verse to the screen. “They don’t look exactly like Charles Addams’ original cartoons, but they’re very much inspired by them and they’re in the same mold, so they do have an original look for our movie,” says Tiernan. “There’s a direct line, a direct thread that goes from what we’re doing all the way back to Charles Addams’ original cartoons, and that was very important for us to keep that.”

Ask anyone involved in this project why they wanted to be a part of it, and they will all offer some variation of: “Well, it’s The Addams Family.” Like some kind of nostalgia mantra, this sentence drives the sentiment of not only everyone on the creative team, but also audiences who line up for every iteration of this family’s life and legacy. (Including Addams Fest in creator Charles Addams’ hometown of Westfield, NJ, but we’ll get to that later.)

“I don’t think there’s anyone I could run into on the street today who wouldn’t have a connection to The Addams Family,” says Allison Janney, who voices Margaux Needler. “They are an iconic, classic, ‘American,’ fictional family. They embrace the macabre and the dark and sort of gruesome side of life. And what’s so wonderful about the Addams Family is they have no idea why they’re that weird anyway. It endears you to them.”

“We’ve really got a wide range of appeal,” says Berman. “It was an opportunity to start something new and feel really fresh. So, we had a desire to have some new blood in the mix and create our own original-feeling group and family, and that’s what happened. I think we succeeded in putting together a very fresh popping group of actors in an animated film, many of whom had never done animation before.”

When Oscar Isaac, the team’s number one choice for family patriarch Gomez Addams, signed on, The Addams Family began to feel real. “Charlize Theron joined and Nick Kroll and Allison Janney,” says Berman. “It wound up being the dream cast.”

Like most people, Isaac was familiar with the TV shows and films, but had a more personal connection. “Raul Julia was one of my favorite actors, and to see him play Gomez with such relish definitely made an impression on me when I was young,” says Isaac. “To get to play that role as an homage to him has been really special.”

Charlize Theron, who voices Morticia, was drawn to the enduring legacy of this quirky clan that, in a subversively delightful way, represents what family really means. “I think at the core, why people really respond to the Addams family, is because ultimately they will always be Addams and they take pride in that and never try to change themselves for anybody,” she says. “We all want to believe that we live our lives authentically, especially within our family circle. And this is a family that lives to the extreme. But there is something that is very grounded, because even though they’re trying to kill each other, they love each other, and you really see that.”

Everyone involved in the movie also found the Addams Family’s struggle incredibly topical and important. “It is an immigrant story. They come from the old country to America and set up roots and build their life here. And someone from outside their world comes in and tries to set up a neighborhood that they don’t fit into, so she tries to run them out,” says Vernon. “Basically, it’s all about acceptance and how Margaux can’t see past her preconceived notions of what her neighborhood should be and accept these people that might be outside of her norm. And about her coming to terms with that and them learning to accept other ways of life. The Addams Family always accept, you know? They might think people are a little strange, but they always try to understand everyone. It’s about other people having to accept them.”

“This film reminds us that whatever we think is normal is something very different for each individual,” adds Theron. “Of course, it’s a really fun film to go see, but there is an underlying message: being different is not a bad thing and we need to celebrate that a little bit more. And I love that I’m a part of something that carries that message.”

Berman agrees. “Charles Addams created a world that is really fun but the themes of The Addams Family — the idea of the outsider being welcomed and absorbed into society — remain a difficult topic,” she says. “They’re looked at as being different and scary or unusual, and yet when you dig a little bit beneath the surface, they’re just a loving extended family, and that’s the beauty of it.”

“Still, the film is a comedy with lots of dark Addams touches, in the vein of family-friendly horror genre,” says Tiernan. “It was important to the team to assure that like the best animated movies, The Addams Family would entertain on many levels.”

“It was of utmost importance to us that we not only make this film for six-year-old children; but that we made it for families,” says Vernon. “You’ve got to entertain the parents, too. And, when you have a property like this, that has stretched back to the 1930s, you have people that are ostensibly ninety years old who are fans of The Addams Family. So, we were very careful to make sure that this movie entertained the family and we mean six and eight-year-olds, we mean fourteen-year-olds, we mean twenty-two-year-olds, we mean thirty-five, forty-seven, fifty-six – all the way up. We want to make sure that everyone gets something out of this movie and it’s not just talking down to people.”

Tiernan and co-writer Matt Lieberman worked hard to find the perfect balance in tone. “We had to be constant in steering everybody away from not only gross humor, but also the fact that these guys are not vampires or werewolves or Freddie Kruger,” says Tiernan. “They’re just a ‘regular normal family’ who happen to have their own way of looking at the world. Peppered throughout, there are homages to various horror movies but it’s a family movie, so it is walking that tightrope.”

“And of course, there’s a whole generation of younger people that might not know who The Addams Family are,” says Tiernan. “So, we had a very real responsibility to make sure that we can introduce these characters to carry on the legacy that Charles Addams started so long ago. I hope wherever he is, he’s happy with what we’ve done.”

“When you look at those old Charles Addams cartoons, his gray washes over his artwork. He really paid attention to the way that his cartoons were lit, by candlelight or by a single light and everything else just kind of drifted off into dark grays and black. There was a gloom to it, but there was a cozy gloom,” says Vernon. “So, we didn’t bubble gum it up at all. We did not want to make this a typical animated film and put a bunch of Easter egg colors on it – giant googly eyes and stuff like that. There’s an edge, a sharpness and a darkness to this that the Addams Family deserves.”

Kevin Miserocchi, spokesperson of the Charles Addams Foundation and Estate speaks on the cultural impact of the beloved characters by saying, “with the exception of two animated television series from Hanna-Barbera in the 1970s and 1990s that drastically interpreted the appearance of the
characters, this is the first time they have been animated in a look that more closely resembles the Addams originals.”

The Creative Team

CONRAD VERNON (Co-Director/Producer/Story/Lurch) is a director, actor and producer who is currently developing The Jetsons for Warner Bros. Vernon directed Shrek 2 (2004), Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012) and Sausage Party (2016), which he also served as a producer. He was an Executive Producer on the animated series The High Fructose Adventures of The Annoying Orange for Cartoon Network which ran from 2012 – 2014. Vernon’s voice acting work includes ‘Mason the Monkey’ in the Madagascar Franchise, ‘The Gingerbread Man’ in the Shrek Franchise and various roles in Sausage Party. Prior to directing and producing, Vernon served as a storyboard artist at Film Roman on the popular animated television comedy The Simpsons. Other animation work includes writer and storyboard artist on The Ren & Stimpy Show, Hanna-Barbera’s 2 Stupid Dogs and Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life. Vernon began his film career in 1991 on the Paramount Pictures film Cool World as an animator, effects animator, gag writer, layout artist and character designer.

GREG TIERNAN (Co-Director) trained in classical feature animation at the famed Don Bluth Studios in the mid 1980s and has held positions spanning the entire creative spectrum of the animation business during his thirty-four-year career. Tiernan’s resume reads as a who’s who of the industry with over twenty feature animated movies, hundreds of TV episodes, and dozens of TV Commercials, Video Game titles and CD ROM titles under his belt for production companies in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.

Most recently Tiernan, along with his Directing partner Conrad Vernon directed the world’s first ‘R’ rated CGI animated feature film Sausage Party. Previously, he served as sole Director on four feature length movies and one hundred television episodes of the iconic pre-school brand Thomas & Friends, all produced at Nitrogen Studios, the production company he and his wife, Producer Nicole Stinn, owned and operated for fifteen years.

Prior to establishing Nitrogen Studios, Tiernan served as Sequence Director at Klasky Csupo Inc., on the hugely popular Rugrats in Paris and Rugrats Go Wild produced for Nickelodeon/Paramount. Tiernan also served as Director and Animation Director at Creative Capers Entertainment where he directed many CD ROM storybook titles for the Walt Disney Company including The Lion King, Tarzan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules among others. He was instrumental in bringing the CD ROM animation industry to the Vancouver market in the late 1990s.

Even with this extensive background, Tiernan feels that he has barely scratched the surface of what is possible in the animation industry and looks forward to what comes next.

ERICA RIVINOJA (Story) is currently the creator/showrunner on Marvel’s Tigra & Dazzler series which will debut on Hulu in 2020. Rivinoja spent eleven years as a writer/producer on South Park where she won two Emmy awards. She has also written for numerous television shows including Up All Night, Marry Me, Bad Teacher, Grounded for Life and the short-lived, but much-loved Clone High. She was most recently a Co-Executive Producer on the critically-acclaimed comedy The Last Man on Earth. Rivinoja’s feature credits include Columbia Pictures Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls and Universal’s Girls Trip.

MATT LIEBERMAN (Writer) recently sold his spec script Meet the Machines to Lionsgate with Lit Entertainment and Temple Hill producing. He is currently writing The House with a Clock in its Walls 2 for Amblin Partners and Universal and Dance, Dance Revolution for Stampede Ventures. His blacklist script Free Guy is currently in post-production at 20th Century Fox with Berlanti Productions and Lit Entertainment attached to produce and Shawn Levy is attached to direct with Ryan Reynolds starring. Lieberman also wrote Playing with Fire for Paramount Players with Todd Garner producing, which is currently awaiting release with Andy Fickman attached to direct and John Cena attached to star.

Most recently, Liberman wrote The Christmas Chronicles, which Netflix released in December 2018 starring Kurt Russell, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Judah Lewis, and Darby Camp. He recently completed writing the sequel, Christmas Chronicles 2 for Netflix, which is currently in pre-production.

Previously, Lieberman wrote Scooby-Doo for Warner Bros. with Atlas producing, as well as Flintstones and Spy vs. Spy. He also wrote Monster on the Hill based on the Rob Harrell graphic novel for Paramount Pictures with Bradley Raymond attached to direct; Giant Monsters Attack Japan for Paramount Animation; Short Circuit for Dimension with Tim Hill set to direct; sold his spec The Pet to Disney with Scott Rudin producing and Jared Hess set to direct; wrote Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for Disney with Peter Candeland to direct; wrote Evil Genius with Andrew Gunn producing; and wrote Personal Security for 20th Century Fox with Hugh Jackman attached to star and produce.