In a rare instance of a sequel improving upon the original, Barry Sonnenfeld's Addams Family Values makes good on all that was good in The Addams Family (1991), which gave new life to the amusing gothic clan that originally appeared in New Yorker comic panels by artist Charles Addams, while also adding a few new twists. The best addition envisioned by screenwriter Paul Rudnick (Sister Act, In & Out) is a much larger role for the family's brooding offspring, Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman), who in the first film were peripheral characters relegated to morbid gags between scenes, but here are given their own subplot when they are shipped off to a sunny summer camp where they totally, completely, and utterly don't fit in.
The main plot in the film involves goofy Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd), who finds romance with Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack), the nanny hired by bug-eyed paterfamilias Gomez Addams (Raul Julia) and his imposing wife Morticia (Anjelica Huston) to look after their new baby, Pubert. Debbie, who is weirdly enthusiastic and giddy and smiley, seems immediately suspicious, but Fester is smitten, if only because Debbie actually shows interest in him, despite his hunchback, sunken eyes, bald head, and general weirdness. Before you know it, they're married, and then the real Debbie emerges, who is controlling, manipulative, cruel, and in it all for the money (just as in the first film, the threat to the family is an outsider trying to pillage their riches).
Meanwhile, Wednesday and Pugsley find themselves in the clutches of an insufferably upbeat summer camp run by the toothy Gary Granger (Peter MacNicol) and his uber-positive wife, Becky (Christine Baranski). The morbid Addams offspring resist at every turn the camp's attempts to integrate them into their sunshiny ways and engage them with their snobbish fellow campers. The conflict between the smiley counselors and the dour Addams duo is one for the ages, and it culminates in a hilariously perverse Thanksgiving-themed pageant in which Wednesday engineers a rant against white colonialism and the subjugation of native peoples before literally burning the place to the ground.
Addams Family Values pushes the bounds set by its predecessor in ways that are consistently humorous, asking us to smile and find laughs in all manner of gloomy delights. The film is once again anchored by Gomez's infectious joie du vivre and romantic passion for Morticia, who remains as pleasantly icy as ever. Raul Julia, in what would sadly be one of his last performances (he died in 1994 of a stroke at the age of 54), plays up Gomez's ardent intensity, which is over the top in all the best ways. Barry Sonnenfeld, who moved from ace cinematographer to director on the first film, again manages to turn the idea of normality inside out in getting us to not just buy into, but genuinely celebrate the Addams's macabre preoccupations. Not all of it works as well as it should-the physical comedy involving the baby Pubert at times feels forced and out of place-but as a whole Addams Family Values lives up to and even surpasses its predecessor in conveying the titular family's wonderful weirdness.
Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment
Overall Rating: (3)
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