For those of you that don’t know, Wednesday Addams is the daughter of The Addams Family, a comic strip/TV show/movie series about a creepy monochrome family who were goths before it was cool. The plot of all their appearances tends to revolve around their madcap family drama (emphasis on the mad), a certain amount of which is instigated by Wednesday. A cult classic, The Addams Family has become a huge feature of the popular consciousness and an endless source of costumes, and Wednesday herself is at the centre of all this.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
NOTE: Much like I did in my review of Morticia, I’ll be focusing my blog post around the 1990s movies with Christina Ricci, as that’s what I’m most familiar with, but I may reference the originals from time to time.
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
The question of how active Wednesday really depends on which movie you look at. In the first film, she doesn’t do much that actually affects the plot, aside from delivering a few creepy one-liners. If I was only looking at her role in The Addams Family, she might not get any points at all.
The second film is a completely different matter. She’s given a lot more to do, and really comes into her own now that she has an expanded storyline. In Addams Family Values, her serial killer nanny packs her off to summer camp when she suspects that she’s trying to prevent her marriage to Uncle Fester. Wednesday then spends the rest of the movie hating the place and trying to a) make it slightly more bearable by ruining everyone else’s lives and b) break out and get back home.
Giving her more of a role in the plot does wonders for her character. In the second film she’s far more active, whether she’s resisting other people’s attempts to change her personality or bringing down the summer camp and setting it on fire. Contrast this with the first film, where the most she does on her own is set up a lemonade stand, and you can really see the difference. I’ll give her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
We actually see quite a lot of Wednesday’s hobbies – we know she enjoys torturing her brother, beheading dolls, and scaring other children, and possibility all of these things at once. We hear a lot about her beliefs too: we know she really admires her Great Aunt Calpurnia, who was burned at the stake for witchcraft, we know she hates all things perky and cheerful, and we know that sticking together as a family is very important to her. Her goals aren’t quite so clear in the first film, but in the second they’re very well laid out: she wants to protect her Uncle Fester and escape and/or destroy the summer camp she’s stuck in. I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 1.5
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Wednesday is a very consistent character. She’s intelligent, forbidding, sadistic, solemn and something of a psychopath. As far as her skills go, we see that she’s a natural leader and extremely comfortable handling medieval weapons of torture. I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 2.5
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
A sadistic, serious young girl who wants to keep her creepy, creepy family together.
SCORE SO FAR: 3.5
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Wednesday doesn’t have that much of a love life. It’s not even mentioned in the first film at all, but in the second she gets her first boyfriend: a fellow outcast who she meets at summer camp. However, this doesn’t really distract from her storyline. The main focus on her particular thread of the plot is her trying to escape from summer camp, and this is what informs her decisions – she just happens to develop a friendship that blossoms into a crush along the way. I’ll be generous and give her the point, as it certainly doesn’t eclipse everything else she does.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Aside from getting her first boyfriend, Wednesday doesn’t really develop over the course of the story. She doesn’t change or learn anything new – in fact, most of her story arcs are about resisting the pressure to change and deliberately staying the same.
These stories provide a difficult line to walk, as they usually paint change or growth as something bad rather than as something inevitable, that eventually happens to everyone, and is often a necessary part of growing up. It’s difficult for a writer to show how their character has grown and changed if the bulk of their storyline revolves around that character making a concerted effort to stay the same.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- Does she have a weakness?
Wednesday doesn’t really have a weakness, either. There is no fatal flaw that leads her to make mistakes, nothing that ends up making her do something she regrets. She’s a little like the other villainesses I’ve looked at on this blog, in that you can’t really call stereotypically ‘evil’ traits weaknesses as they form such a large part of her character, so all the unappealing parts of her personality can’t really count here. I’m withholding the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Wednesday is a real influence on the plot, particularly in Addams Family Values. In the first film she’s more passive, and the bulk of her influence revolves around her building up relationships with other characters that influence their decisions. In the second film she’s flying: she’s the force behind her own storyline and it’s a joy to watch. I’m giving her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 5.5
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Wednesday is very subversive when it comes to gender stereotypes. She’s intelligent, sadistic, deadpan, solemn and morbidly obsessed with – well, all things morbid. These are hardly the traits you would expect to see in a young girl.
What’s more, these traits don’t really make Wednesday a bad character. She enjoys doing all of these slightly horrible things, but it’s made very clear that underneath it all she is still (very broadly speaking), a mostly-good person. I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 6.5
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Wednesday has quite a few relationships with other female characters. Interestingly, we don’t see a lot of her relationship with her mother, Morticia, but we know it’s based on love. The relationships that get the most screen time are those with people working against her – such as Debbie, the serial killer nanny, Amanda, the perfect pre-teen bully, and Becky, the terrifyingly perky camp counsellor. These all tend to take the same kind of tone – Wednesday cottons onto their plans, starts working against them, and they retaliate – but are sufficiently different to be worth mentioning. For example, Debbie doesn’t even try to tackle Wednesday, just sends her straight off to camp. Becky and Amanda both try and make Wednesday into a chipper, perfect camper – Wednesday manages to fool Becky into thinking it’s worked, but Amanda isn’t so easily tricked. That’s enough for the full point in my books.
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
Wednesday is a well-rounded character with a range of goals, hobbies and beliefs, who is neither defined by her love life nor gender stereotypes, but ultimately that isn’t quite enough to let her pass my test. Her lack of growth and weaknesses, combined with her passivity in the first film, means that she’s only just fallen short.
I think that this perfectly illustrates how much extended screen time can do for a character. If I’d only looked at Wednesday in the first film, she still would’ve failed; if I’d only looked at Wednesday in the second film, she probably would’ve passed. Whereas in the first film, she had an almost decorative role – providing more creepy window-dressing than any actual influence on the plot – Addams Family Values really allowed her character to come into its own, and made her so much more memorable in the process. I’d still really enjoy both films whether she passed or failed, but because of the extra development in the second one, it’s definitely got the edge.
Next week, I’ll be looking at a modern classic and a staple of classic horror: The Phantom of the Opera. Christine Daae, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.