Thanksgiving is gonna be a weird one in the year of our lord 2020, where up is down, loving your family means staying the hell away from them, and watching a movie together virtually is probably one of the best ways to “gather” while still abiding by public safety guidelines.
But let’s be real: Thanksgiving was always a deeply cursed holiday from its very beginnings, a reality that mainstream discourse has only just now started reckoning with in a serious capacity.
One Thanksgiving movie, though, manages to embody both the bizarro-world chaos energy of our times and the twisted morbidity that underlies the beloved holiday — a heartwarming festivity with origins in ostensibly celebrating the genocide of Indigenous peoples by European colonists. That movie is 1993’s Addams Family Values.
Some folks who miss the point entirely argue that Addams Family Values isn’t a “legitimate” Thanksgiving movie, I guess because there’s no scene of a family gathering together and giving thanks before feasting on a big dead turkey. But actually, the movie’s abject rejection of these Thanksgiving traditions is exactly what makes it so ahead of its time.
What Addams Family Values proves is that you don’t need to follow conventional scripts of a “proper” Thanksgiving in order to participate in the holiday’s best qualities, like gratitude for your loved ones.
Add pitch-perfect casting — packed with comedic gold like Joan Cusack as the homicidal bubbly blonde scamming Uncle Fester and Carol Kane as Granny in a role almost indistinguishable from her Kimmy Schmidt character — and you have a movie firing on all cylinders.
While many of us are only now having to reimagine what’s “normal” and question the very fabric of what it means to be American, this family has been bucking those conventions for decades. The Addamses are, in essence, an opposite-day version of the Hallmark card family, a rejection of all the traditional values and ideals we usually associate with all-American wholesomeness. And that’s exactly the kind of energy we need to bring to the table if we’re gonna survive the holidays in 2020.
Even though the Addams family values only what is macabre, violent, and abnormal, deep down, they’re also fiercely loving in a way that rivals many more traditional American families. Despite appearances (with family members that include the literal undead and a sentient severed limb), the Addams are often far less ghoulish than some of the folks who embody more conventional ideals.
For example, Christian conservatives who claim to live by the teachings of Jesus also tend to contradict those values with politics that punish the vulnerable people Jesus advocated for, like impoverished folks and sex workers. In a reversal of that paradox, the Addams family seems to advocate for the destruction of all that is good and holy, while in fact embracing the outcasts excluded from all-American values.
In a 25th anniversary retrospective on Addams Family Values from the Hollywood Reporter, screenwriter Paul Rudnick spoke on how he embedded this message into the very title itself:
“[I wanted] the movie’s name to be a response to the Republican Party’s constant harping on ‘family values,’ as if only conservatives could define a loving family. In Republican terms, ‘family values’ is always code for censorship and exclusion, and Republicans still refuse to respect or even acknowledge, for example, LGBTQ families. I like to believe that the Addams Family is far more loving and accepting than their enemies.”
By celebrating a family that inverts the contradictions of conservative values, Addams Family Values become a salient indictment of the rampant hypocrisy entrenched in American traditionalism.
Now, the assumption that only Bush-era Republicans participated in marginalizing others is a bit short-sighted. People across all political ideologies can (and do) oppress those rejected by American social structures.
But there’s an undercurrent of anti-colonialism and anti-nationalism in Addams Family Values that sets it apart from any other holiday movies, culminating in one of the most iconic depictions of Thanksgiving to ever grace cinema. Forced to participate in the conservative Camp Chippewa’s Thanksgiving play, Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci) literally sets fire to the hypocritical colonialist mythos of the holiday as a peaceful gathering between pilgrims and Native Americans.
Admittedly, this early ’90s comedy isn’t flawless in its tackling of complex issues like America’s colonialist past and present. After all, to my knowledge, there are no actual Native Americans in the film, at least not in a prominent enough role for the movie to be practicing what it preaches on the hypocrisy of Thanksgiving.
Wednesday Addams is obviously righteous in her takedown of the holiday as a whitewashing of America’s bloody history, but as a white girl herself serving as the moral compass correcting these wrongs, she’s a classic example of the white savior trope. Also, she does it while dressed in the kind of stereotypical costume used to appropriate Indigenous cultures, and further plays into offensive cliches portraying Native Americans as bloodthirsty savages
[It’s] a perfect blend of holiday cheer and holiday disdain, warm fuzzies and murderous rage, familial love and familial contempt, the traditional and unconventional.
The movie’s context does at least make clear that Wednesday is an aggressively unwilling participant in this appropriative, whitewashed American pageantry. But, ultimately, loving what Addams Family Values gets so right requires we simultaneously recognize the limitations of what it gets wrong.
The dark humor of Addams Family Values renders it the most suitable Thanksgiving movie for 2020, bringing a perfect blend of holiday cheer and holiday disdain, warm fuzzies and murderous rage, familial love and familial contempt, the traditional and unconventional. The overarching central theme is all about recognizing how family, love, and human beings are inherently flawed, always wavering between tender-hearted goodness and freakish monstrousness.
It’s the only Thanksgiving movie for our unprecedented times because it embraces how we’re all just a bunch of weirdo misfits grasping for normalcy in a world where what’s “normal” feels more bizarre than anything else. In the end, the best we can do is learn to accept or maybe even be thankful for what makes us American rejects.
Fuck the pilgrims. Fuck the turkey. A goth girl shooting a bald eagle during archery practice at a summer camp named after stolen Indigenous land is the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
Addams Family Values is available to stream on CBS All Access or to rent or buy on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, and more.