Sequels cranked out rapidly following the success of a hit movie too often fail to recapture the magic, but 1993’s Addams Family Values manages to improve upon its predecessor. The film doubles down on all the parts that worked the first time around, eliminates or fixes the parts that didn’t, and generally feels like a more polished and coherent product. I’d call it a textbook example of everything a good sequel should be, but the truth is that this is the Addams Family movie we should’ve gotten in the first place.
If anything, being a sequel does a disservice to Addams Family Values. Coming second occasionally leaves it feeling like a retread of certain aspects of the 1991 movie, or like a TV series settling into a repetitive formula. That would be less of a problem if the order were reversed. Frankly, I think an ideal Addams Family movie ought to combine the best aspects of each – the freshness and energetic zaniness of the first with the stronger scripting and narrative backbone of the second.
|Title:||Addams Family Values|
|Year of Release:||1993|
|Also Available On:||4K Ultra HD Blu-ray|
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms
The greatest strength of the 1991 Addams Family movie was its casting, which is almost entirely replicated here. Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston return as parents Gomez and Morticia Addams, with Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester and Christina Ricci as daughter Wednesday. (Jimmy Workman is also back as son Pugsley, but his name didn’t exactly make it onto the marquee.) The only significant bit of recasting has Carol Kane take over as Granny from prior actress Judith Malina, and she makes a natural fit. Barry Sonnenfeld also once again directs, bringing lots of inventive visual flair. However, this time he gets to work from a better screenplay (by playwright Paul Rudnick) that actually has a decent plot to string his elaborate set-pieces onto.
When Morticia and Gomez have a new baby, they feel the need bring a nanny into the house. Accepting the offer is an all-too-perfect candidate named Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack), who turns out to be a devious con artist and Black Widow killer with designs on seducing the naive Fester. The first step in her plan is to get older children Wednesday and Pugsley out of the house by shipping them off to summer camp, an experience Wednesday in particular finds thoroughly detestable. A quick wedding and tidy honeymoon murder later should leave Debbie free to abscond with the family fortune. At least, it would if Wednesday weren’t onto her scheme, and if Fester didn’t prove so maddeningly difficult to kill. What is it about these Addamses and their resistance to death?
Having become a breakout star from the first film, Christina Ricci gets a lot more screen time in the sequel. Even though the movie was released just two years later, the young actress looks quite a bit older. That may be due to a wider gap between the actual filming times, or a growth spurt in the meantime, or possibly both. In any case, she’s still a delight in the role. Wednesday’s antics at the summer camp, where she’s tormented by a pair of dementedly chipper adult counselors (Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski), are some of the centerpiece highlights of Addams Family Values. The visible pain as she attempts to contort her face into a smile for their benefit may be the funniest moment in the movie, and that’s all Ricci’s doing. Not many actresses her age could have sold the gag nearly as well.
That said, I have to wonder if the film’s most famous sequence, in which Wednesday hijacks the cluelessly racist counselors’ Thanksgiving play to let the Natives take deserved vengeance upon their Pilgrim oppressors, is maybe not as enlightened as it seemed in 1993. I think screenwriter Rudnick had good intentions with the scene, but the optics of a white girl in costume as Pocahontas leading a bunch of other white kids in a “savage” revolt are possibly problematic in retrospect. Admittedly, I may not be in the best position to judge whether actual Indigenous people would or would not find the scene offensive, but it’s something I’m more inclined to think about today than I might have thirty years ago. Is it insensitive, or is it harmless? I’m honestly not sure, but in either case I think the whole scene could have been reworked differently with a little more effort and still come out funny.
In all other respects, the sequel is very enjoyable. Keep an eye out for walk-on cameos by the likes of Nathan Lane as a cop, David Hyde Pierce as a delivery room doctor, and Tony Shalhoub as a sailor. The nerdy boy with a crush on Wednesday is a young David Krumholtz (future star of CBS’s Numb3rs, among many other shows). Wednesday’s snooty camp rival (Mercedes McNab) would go on to an important supporting role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer a few years later, and one of the prospective nanny candidates is Cynthia Nixon (later of Sex & the City).
I’ll even forgive the movie for having another super-lame hip hop song (this one by Tag Team, pathetically cramming Addams Family references into a remix of their only hit, “Whoomp! There It Is”) foisted over the end credits in a desperate, corporately mandated bid to promote soundtrack album sales.
I’ve never owned Addams Family Values on physical media. The Blu-ray release from 2019 did not receive particularly great reviews at the time, leaving me disinclined to invest in a copy now. The movie is also not yet available on 4K Ultra HD. As with the original Addams Family, I felt that streaming would suffice for this viewing.
The copy available on Netflix is a full-screen 16:9 transfer clearly derived from an older master. I expect that it probably looks similar to the Blu-ray, which was criticized for a dated appearance even in 2019. Right from the opening, edge enhancement artifacts are visible in the picture. The image is soft in general, doubly so during the gauzy close-ups of Anjelica Huston shot with a filter over the lens. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the movie looks terrible. It’s adequate enough for a one-time viewing, but I’m glad I didn’t pay anything to watch it, beyond the cost of my Netflix subscription.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is likewise nothing special. The scene where Debbie attempts to electrocute Fester has really fun surround channel usage, but the soundtrack has very little depth or dynamic range.
One thought on “Let’s Not Forget Our Cheery Little Chippewas – Addams Family Values (1993)”
I remember being very confused by the title as a youngster with a limited grasp of English, because I didn’t know the saying ‘Family Values’. I thought ‘Values’ was a verb here, and thought ‘so what are they actually valuing?’