WWhen Luna Atoms was about seven years old, she watched the same movies on VHS almost every night. Watch, rewind, repeat. It was one of the characters that attracted her: a china-skinned teenage girl with dark hair always in pigtails and a macabre sense of humor to match.
This was in the ’90s, and the videos that Atoms captured on their TV screen were the 1991 film The Addams family and its 1993 sequel, Values of the Addams Family. “I’ve always been obsessed with Wednesday Addams,” explains Atoms, now 32, today. “I remember wanting to be her. It was the first time I connected with a character in a way that made me want to experience life as them.”
The creation of American cartoonist Charles Addams, the odd family — including parents Morticia and Gomez, Uncle Fester, cousin Itt, and a disembodied hand named Thing — first appeared in spooky, spooky, mysterious, and wacky one-part cartoons, some of which were published in The New Yorker and especially in the forties and fifties. In 1964, the cartoons spawned a TV sitcom, which was followed by several other spin-offs over the years. But it was in the ’90s movies that Wednesday Addams — Morticia and Gomez’s only daughter — began to take on more prominent roles.
Played by Christina Ricci, Wednesday was gothic and glamorous, standing out in an era of glittering princesses. “She wasn’t the typical Disney-style character that was on screen at the time,” says Atoms. “She was different – a little bit inappropriate and more relatable than other characters I’d seen before. The total opposite of the usual portrayal of what a young girl should be like.” It wasn’t just her personality that appealed to her. Atoms also wanted to look like them. “I had lots of blonde curls and wanted light skin and dark hair with braids.” Although she couldn’t change her hair color, her mother made her braid her hair in braids every day. “It was almost like falling in love.”
Atoms is not alone in their fixation. A whole generation of young people grew up with Wednesday and wanted to be like her. There are tons of crocheted Wednesday Addams dolls and t-shirts with her face and the words “Sad Girls Club” on Etsy. Her signature look—long black dress, white collar—is an enduring standard for Halloween costumes. And now the character has returned to screens with her own Netflix show. Wednesday, co-directed by Tim Burton. The show on Wednesday (now played by Jenna Ortega) sees her unleashing a load of piranhas in her school’s swimming pool – a jock loses a testicle as a result – and is sent to boarding school as punishment. Longtime Wednesday fans will inevitably love the show. Also newbies. Because she’s basically a character that’s easy to fall in love with. Even if she looks like a Victorian waif and keeps trying to kill her siblings.
For Magali Bellego, 38, who rewatches ’90s Addams Family movies every few years, it was Wednesday’s attitude that set her apart. As a child, Bellego had no interest in watching movies about princesses. Instead, her favorite films at the time revolved around Batman – and she loved the villains the most. “But as a little girl, I couldn’t identify with Joker or Poison Ivy because they were grown up,” she explains. “That was what made Wednesday special – it wasn’t that she was a villain, but she was naughty. I looked up to her because I wasn’t a girly girl. I remember thinking how different she was from anything I’d seen before and how little she cared about anything or what people thought of her.”
Not giving a damn meant Wednesday had no qualms about instilling a little fright in anyone who crossed her path. Crucially though, she was never overwhelmingly scary. That’s the key to their appeal, says Dr. Daryl Sparkes, a longtime fan and Lecturer in Media Studies and Production at the University of Southern Queensland. “Wednesday was a ‘quirky’ character who wasn’t really menacing,” he explains. “A teenage girl could express her love for her weirdness without people thinking she was an aspiring serial killer or a psychopath. You might get into friend groups because you think she’s someone positive. But when she went around, she was touting a love for Chucky child’s play and if you try to imitate him, you might end up [needing] a child psychologist.”
One thing that helped Wednesday get away with her often sadistic behavior was her comedic edge. “Pugsley… the baby is 10 pounds, the cannonball is 20 pounds,” she muses Values of the Addams Family. “Who hits the stone path first?” Atoms found this type of dark comedy particularly engaging as a kid. “I had never been confronted with this kind of dry, dark humor before,” she recalls. “Wednesday was the first example I saw of that.”
Unlike most women and girls on screen at the time (and even today), Wednesday has no interest in boys. Indeed, when asked by a friend from summer camp Values of the Addams Family If she ever wants to get married, she simply says, “No.” He further urges, “What if you met the right man who adores and adores you? Who would do anything for you…who would be your devoted slave…then what would you do?”. Answer from Wednesday? “I would feel sorry for him.”
This struck Bellego. “I liked the fact that she never thought about boys,” she says. “It was inspiring. The formula of the princess story tells you that you must find your prince in order to be saved – Wednesday never thought so. She was her own independent, individual character.”
Sparkes says it was just one of the qualities that teenagers, especially teenage girls, admired about her. “Wednesday isn’t the reserved shrinking purple, it’s open and undrinkable,” he says. “She’s not interested in boys and has a penchant for curiosity. She always makes the perfect comeback when someone tries to point out how weird she is. Dressed in black or not, Wednesday is someone who teenage girls want to be.
Wednesday’s uniqueness is why fans like Atoms and Bellego connected to her as kids and still connect to her now as adults. But Sparkes also suggests this is because Wednesday has rejected the traditions of typical coming-of-age stories – there’s little learning, no attempts to conform to a specific mold. “Wednesday doesn’t think she’s clumsy,” he says. “She thinks all the other kids are abnormal. She doesn’t care about being accepted. There is no “coming of age” on Wednesday. [because] She has always been of legal age and will remain so when she grows up. She skipped all the awkwardness and grace of growing up. She’s a 50-year-old in the body of a 10-year-old who’s mad at the world.”
As for Wednesday being a good role model, Bellego wholeheartedly believes she is and always will be. “I’m attracted to strong, independent women,” she says. “I don’t know if I knew it as a kid, but Wednesday always thought of bigger and more important things than boys. She wanted to learn and play. She wanted to find out what happened in the Bermuda Triangle.”
The Wednesday ethos, as Bellego understood it, left its mark. “Do something interesting with your time and don’t worry about what people think of you,” she says. “Because there is no such thing as normal.”
“Wednesday” is now streaming on Netflix
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