The family just got a little stranger.
The title of Addams Family Values is a play on the “family values” buzzphrase of the George Bush presidential years. And who better to lampoon the mediocrity of American suburban life than the Addams? They’re creepy and they’re kooky…and all that other stuff.
The Addams Family began in the 1930s as a comic in The New Yorker drawn by Charles Addams. The strip featured many members of the fictional Addams clan (I hope they’re fictional at least), but Charles Addams did not caption much of his artwork, so the characters did not gain defined personalities (or even names!) until the television show based on the strip debuted in 1964. Like other iconic shows of the 1960s, The Addams Family was cancelled before its time (only 64 episodes were made), but it has lived on in syndication. It was brought back as a cartoon series (featuring a young Jodie Foster as the voice of son Pugsley) in 1973 and as a made-for-TV movie in 1977 before its theatrical revival in the 1990s.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, Men In Black), 1991’s The Addams Family put a new yet familiar spin on the ghoulish family. A new cast was introduced: Raul Julia (Kiss Of The Spider Woman) as Gomez, the suave leader of the clan; Anjelica Huston (The Grifters) as Gomez’s wife Morticia; Christina Ricci (The Opposite Of Sex) as daughter Wednesday; and Christopher Lloyd (the Back To The Future trilogy) as Gomez’s oafish brother Fester (“It means ‘to rot’!”). Not to slight the talents of John Astin or Carolyn Jones (the leads of the television series), but the new cast is the perfect representation of this family. I think I waited until video to see the first movie, but I fell in love with the series as soon as I saw it, and caught Addams Family Values on opening night.
As much as my looks might belie the fact (you can’t see me, so take my word for it), there is that “imp of the perverse” in me that revels in the dark and macabre. See, I can even quote Edgar Allen Poe. The Addams family is the embodiment of the unfulfilled desire — not just in me, but in many people — to fall out of lockstep with the shiny happy people and enjoy being nasty. Of course, it would be better if we just lived vicariously through them instead of turning into a world filled with troglodytes. But enough philosophizing. Let’s move on.
Addams Family Values, unlike many sequels, is a standalone product. You don’t need to be familiar with the goings-on of the first film to understand this movie. However, let’s recap. In The Addams Family, Fester returns to the family mansion after many years away. It’s established that the Addams are very rich. At the end of the movie, Morticia is pregnant. There. Now let’s move on.
The movie begins with Morticia giving birth to a baby boy, Pubert, who is very much an Addams…black hair, mustache, loves shrunken heads. Wednesday and Pugsley, the other children, are very jealous of the tot and do everything in their power to kill it (they call it “playing with the baby”). So, their parents decide that a nanny is in order. Most of the candidates are chased off, but one has the guts to stand up to the family: Debbie Jellinsky, played with great relish by Joan Cusack (Grosse Point Blank, Arlington Road). It’s quickly established, however, that Debbie has an ulterior motive: she the famed Black Widow Killer, marrying rich men then killing them on her wedding night. Her target is lonely, socially inept (not to mention rich) Fester Addams.
Wednesday and Pugsley can see right through Debbie’s plot, so she devises the worst way imaginable to get them out of the picture: send them off to summer camp. With the kids gone, Debbie quickly seduces Fester and marries him. On their wedding night, she attempts to kill him. I say “attempt” because she underestimates the Addams’ resistance to death. To buy herself some time, she exchanges sex for the promise that Fester will never see his family again.
Meanwhile back at the ranch…err, summer camp, Wednesday and Pugsley severely clash with the bright, sunny dispositions of the camp leaders and the rich campers. Through letters from home, they learn that Fester is going to marry the devious Debbie. Attempts to escape from the camp meet with time in the “Harmony Hut,” a dreary place filled with stuffed animals, videotapes of The Brady Bunch, and posters of Michael Jackson. The kids exact their revenge at the parent’s day production of a musical version of the first Thanksgiving. I’m not going to spoil it, because the disc is worth buying for that scene alone.
With her claws into Fester, Debbie tries to find new ways to kill him. On their three-week anniversary, she gives him a present — a box filled with dynamite. Needless to say, even that doesn’t work, but it makes it obvious to Fester that she’s trying to kill him. With the aid of Thing (a disembodied hand), he escapes, but Debbie pursues him to the family mansion. Can the family survive? Of course, but you’ll just have to watch to find out what happens.
Addams Family Values is rife with jokes that are all but thrown away. It doesn’t dwell on the humor; it’s not the Jim Carrey sort of humor that points at its jokes and goes, “Look at me! I’m being funny!” It’s full of little things that all add up to an extremely funny movie. Take, for instance, the wedding of Debbie and Fester. The audience is filled with what appear to be extras from a George Romero zombie flick. The limousine looked more like a hearse and, along with the traditional tin cans tied to the bumper, was dragging a dead body. One of my favorite scenes takes place at the beginning in the hospital waiting room. A little girl, about the age of Wednesday and Pugsley, is going on about how a stork brought her mommy’s baby. Wednesday tersely answers, “Our parents had sex.”
As I mentioned earlier, the new cast of this pair of movies is the perfect representation of the Addams Family. Raul Julia chews up every scene that he is in. He is the epitome of charm and continental manners. Anjelica Huston’s performance does not have the physical humor of many of the other parts, but she captures the aloof sexuality of Morticia. (I couldn’t help but notice that her face, with the exception of her eyes, is in perpetual shadow.) The real gems, though, are Christopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci. Lloyd is buried under makeup and turtlenecks for the entire movie, yet his face is still expressive and he brings life to what, in other hands and overacted, would have been a repulsive character. Addams Family Values was released just three years after Christina Ricci’s debut as Cher’s youngest daughter in Mermaids. Even if she isn’t the star, Wednesday is the highlight of the movie. Every line she delivers is cold and heartless. When she smiles, it’s the creepiest thing you’ll ever see. At thirteen, Ricci had poise, control, and talent that few actors multiples of her age possess. It’s no wonder that she’s become one of the most talented young actresses working today.
Paramount’s DVD issue of Addams Family Values is, well, a very typical catalog release from Paramount. I’m not gong to complain about it though, because the only thing lacking is extras. The movie is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image is sharp and detailed, with only a minimal amount of noise caused by very fine patterns in the set decoration. The movie’s dark palette is rendered perfectly. Audio has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, with excellent results. Dialogue is reproduced naturally, and the rear channels are used extensively. Marc Shaiman’s very Elfmanesque score has excellent range and is projected through all channels. The subwoofer is only used during the movie’s sole explosion. The disc’s only extra is a pair of theatrical trailers, presented in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Surround sound.
Extras are just that — extras. I don’t think a DVD release fails solely for a lack of supplemental content, but it certainly can make a good release better. Addams Family Values is a funny movie and well worth owning due to the audio and video quality. I would have liked to have seen some production photos, or storyboards, or some background information on the comic strip, but it would only have been icing on a cake that is delicious without it.
If you haven’t seen Addams Family Values, I’d heartily recommend it as a rental. Those who have seen it are encouraged to purchase it post-haste.