I watched Addams Family Values for the first time when I was 11 years old. I don’t think I’d seen the first movie, or knew that it existed. That year, I dressed up as Wednesday Addams in the Thanksgiving scene for Halloween. My four best friends were all blonde and I hadn’t even noticed. When people made comments about what a sweet Pocahontas I was—people were less political then—I told them, “No, I’m not Pocahontas. I’m Wednesday as Pocahontas.” I wanted to be her in that scene, the one where she stops everything and tells everyone how the Thanksgiving story really goes. The one where she sets everything on fire.
In Addams Family Values, the second and unanimously the best Addams Family movie, Wednesday Addams and her brother Pugsley get sent to summer camp. At summer camp, everyone is blonde. They cheer a lot at summer camp, and clap like little girls, and make the Addams siblings watch Disney movies when they act sour or don’t smile enough.
“Welcome to America’s foremost facility for privileged young adults! We’re all here to learn, to grow, and to just plain have fun. ‘Cause that’s what being privileged is all about!”
It’s all sarcasm, but it’s delivered so genuinely a child could never pick up the undertones. With screenwriter Paul Rudnick’s subtle adult humor and snarky references, there’s a lot more going on at summer camp than overly spunky white kids in matching khaki uniforms.
For one, lead camp counselors Gary Granger and Becky Martin-Granger can be easily associated with a lot of “ist” words—elitist, racist, classist. They even disapprove of the kid with headgear. But I didn’t like the scene because Wednesday was setting the record straight, or revealing the unspoken truth about the politically problematic origins of Thanksgiving. I liked the scene because Amanda Buckman was a huge bitch, and in that Thanksgiving play Wednesday executed the sweetest, renegade revenge I’d ever seen. I was Wednesday, and Wednesday was a badass.
“You know what we’re gonna do with them. We’re gonna show that anyone—no matter how odd, or pale or chubby, can still have a darn good time!”
Gary and Becky Granger send Wednesday, Pugsley and their outcast friend Joel to the harmony tent to watch a marathon of cheerful, princess-inspired movies like The Little Mermaid. Afterwards, they convince everyone at camp that they’re “fixed.” Wednesday even sort-of smiles. It’s decided Wednesday will play Pocahontas, and Pugsley will play the turkey in the end-of-summer Thanksgiving Day play. I never once questioned why Camp Chippewa had decided to reenact the Thanksgiving story during summer. It didn’t matter. This was best scene, the triumphant moment.
“Why, you are as civilized as we. Except we wear shoes and have last names. Welcome to our table, our new primitive friends.”
Wednesday hates the world because she doesn’t fit in it, but her ultimate nemesis is the evil and milky little miss Amanda Buckman. We hate Amanda from the moment she smiles. She represents the girls in high school who acted nice, but weren’t, the girls we imagined brushed their hair one thousand times through every night. For the Thanksgivings Day play, Amanda gets the part of Sarah Miller, queen pilgrim. Sarah invites Pocahontas and her friends to dinner, and in her overdone nice-girl pilgrim act, she uses the word “savage” twice.
“Remember, these savages are our guests. We must not be surprised at any of their strange customs. After all, they have not had our advantages. Such as fine schools, libraries full of books, shampoo.”
Wednesday, Pugsley and Joel aren’t alone in their rebellion. The “indians” along with them include all the brunettes at camp, the kids with glasses, the one in a wheel chair, and the fat kid, too. Wednesday is the leader of the outcasts. They look up to her because she doesn’t care about being different, because she twists the idea of “weird” and turns it on the “normal” kids. She makes being interested in homicide seem like the average teenage hobby. Because, obviously.
“The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, ‘Do not trust the Pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller.’”
When the scene starts, we have no indication of what Wednesday is going to do. At first, she plays along, a changed character. She thanks Sarah for inviting them to the feast, and calls her the most beautiful woman she has ever seen, praising her for how much everyone loves her. She so subtlety mocks Amanda, building up to her next line, following which madness, fire and a full-blown outcast rebellion ensue.
“Wait. We cannot break bread with you. You have taken the land which is rightfully ours.”
And then comes, the monologue. The lines Christina Ricci delivered so bold, so dead-pan we didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or hide our eyes in fear. At 11 years old, I cheered. I don’t think I understood the details of what Wednesday was talking about, but I knew she was winning. The horror on Gary and Becky’s faces said it all.
“Years from now, my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations; your people will wear cardigans and drink highballs.”
At the time, Ricci was 12 years old saying the word “highball.” In 1994, Ricci spoke of being a young, mature actress with Interview Magazine. She said: “I can be young and cute when I want to be, and I can be really mature when I want to be. It’s kind of weird, like I’m the incredible changing girl.”
“We will sell our bracelets by the roadside; you will play golf and enjoy hot hors d’oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation; your people will have stick-shifts.”
“And for all these reasons, I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground.”
The thanksgiving scene alone took two weeks to shoot. The cast and crew had to sort out dancing turkeys, pyrotechnics, and sling shot two pies directly into the faces of two Camp Chippewa parents. They had to tie up Amanda Buckman. They had to set fire to the stage. When they first screened the film, teenagers said they thought Amanda was killed, that Wednesday really burned her like the scene suggested. The directors didn’t want kids to think that had happened, so they added a short clip with Amanda on the plane later on. They didn’t show Amanda or any of the other Camp Chippewa campers or parents escape. We just got to guess at what happened. It didn’t matter. Wednesday won.
“Eat us! Hey, it’s Thanksgiving Day! Eat Us! We make a nice buffet! We lost the race with Farmer Ed, so eat us, because we’re good and dead!”
So this Thanksgiving, when you sit down with your family and friends to eat turkey and quickly run through the things you’re thankful for, think about Wednesday, Pugsley and the outcasts. They like turkey, too.