Addams Family Values (1993)


I still believe that of all the attempts to adapt television shows to the big screen, outside of science fiction, the only one I can think of that's been truly successful was the two Addams Family movies.  I think that is because the original show used subversive humor to satirize society at the time it was made, and because of being framed in a "spooky" manner it got away with much more than I would expect from a television show that started at the same time the Beatles were becoming popular in the United States.  Instead of doing some sort of ironic take on the show, director Barry Sonnenfeld wisely just updated it to the '90s and let things play out.

It does help that the Addams Family themselves always happily existed as outsiders, with much of the humor coming from their confrontations with "normal" people and their general misunderstanding of how the world works.  Other adaptations like The Brady Bunch and The Beverly Hillbillies, while occasionally amusing, tried the same approach, but definitely not with the same success. They also were not able to carry on with a successful sequel.

Morticia (Angelica Huston) informs Gomez (Raoul Julia) that she is about to have a baby, leading to a trip to the hospital and the arrival of the newest member of the family - Pubert (Kaitlynn and Kristen Hooper).  Predictably, neither Wednesday (Christina Ricci) nor Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) are too happy with the arrangement and, instead of trying to kill each other, join forces to get rid of their new brother. 

Gomez starts worrying that the children are getting to be too much for the two of them to take care of, and so they go about trying to find a nanny.  After scaring off or potentially wounding a number of them, one mysteriously shows up after the agency has told the Addams no one else is available: Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack), who seems perfectly able to handle the Addams' kids.  She also catches the eye of Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd), who has been searching for someone to be with.  Trouble is, it is soon made apparent that Debbie is the Black Widow, already offing her parents and two husbands in her attempt to climb the social ladder.  She has her eyes on Fester as husband number three.

Wednesday quickly notices that maybe Debbie has some other motive, and the nanny solves the problem of having the kids around by sending them to Camp Chippewa for the summer.  With them out of the way, she begins her romance with Fester.  However, finding him a bit more difficult to kill than she thought, decides to emotionally blackmail him into cutting ties with the rest of the family.

At camp, neither Wednesday nor Pugsley fit in, especially running afoul of rich popular girl Amanda (Mercedes McNab) and the two manically perky (and casually racist) head counselors, Gary Granger (Peter MacNicol) and his wife, Becky Martin-Granger (Christine Baranski).  Joining them in the "Harmony Hut" in an attempt to make them confirm is Joel Glicker (David Krumholz), who is supposedly allergic to everything - at least according to his doting mother.  Joel and Wednesday begin to connect, and he ultimately aids her and Pugsley, as well as the other "different" kids at the camp in taking revenge during the Grangers' play about the first Thanksgiving. 

Upon returning home they find the family in chaos, with Fester not talking to them and Pubert looking like a healthy newborn.  However, Fester soon returns, with Debbie following, as she decides that at this point she no longer just wants to get rid of Fester, but the rest of the family as well. 

Addams Family Values benefits from some fore-knowledge of what went right in the first movie.  Christina Ricci's interpretation of Wednesday Addams was the highlight, so the kids get their own entire plot separate from Fester being targeted by a homicidal golddigger.  I am glad that is here, because otherwise the plot would feel too much like a retread of the first movie.  My summer camp experiences may not have always been wonderful, but at least I didn't get stuck in a Disney-fueled prison camp.

The main plot is largely there to string the movie along, but Christopher Lloyd is allowed to be more Fester this time around rather than being an amnesia victim.  Joan Cusack's character is already insane, but trust an Addams to push her even further.

Finally, nothing says Addams Family like the relationship between Gomez and Morticia.  There were a number of factors that led to there not being a third movie - Raoul Julia's cancer, Christina Ricci and Jimmy Workman getting older - but Julia and Angelica Huston probably could have carried it on at least one more time.  They are different than the portrayals by Sean Astin and Carolyn Jones, but just as vibrant.  I really can't say that one or the other is better.  The writing is this one is still just as witty, and the BDSM relationship they share is refreshingly straightforward.

There are a few problems.  Thing's (Christopher Hart) animation is not as good as in the first movie, and some of the crude humor, like an unnecessary masturbation joke involving Fester and Thing, is out of place.  That joke is something kids would make on a playground, not something that belongs in a major movie. 

Lurch (Carel Struycken) isn't given as much to do, which is unfortunate as he was always one of the deadpan comedy foils in the show.  One of the best physical jokes in the beginning involves him, but after that he kind of vanishes.  Also, like the first, there is a rather silly dance routine that takes more time than it should.

I hope that no one decides to resurrect this again, as it was quite a bit of luck that, almost 30 years apart, the makers of this film were able to find actors with the same chemistry as the original.  I very much doubt that a third time would be charm, as I can just imagine the horrible, rubbery CGI effects that would take over any focus on the family itself. 

Addams Family Values (1993)
Time: 94 minutes
Starring: Raoul Julia, Angelica Huston, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lloyd, Jimmy Workman, Joan Cusack
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

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