Darke Reviews | Addams Family Values (1993)

Ok, I am doing two classics in a row here. Mostly because these films are beautifully crafted gothic humor classics. This one also breaks Hollywood tradition when it comes to sequels. Sure there are a handful of good sequels out there, but its rare enough that people can name things like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II and they stick out. No I am not in any way comparing Addams Family Values to those two films level of film making, but the three films do have one thing in common.

Barry Sonnenfeld (Addams Family, Men in Black) returned to this film almost immediately after the success of the first film. Success you may ask? Well on a $30 million budget they made $114 million domestic officially marking it as a blockbuster. The first film was even nominated for two academy awards.  I wish I could say the second did as well, but it only brought in $48 million (budget unknown). I have to admit now as we get into the details of the review – upon first watching I thought it was ok. I didn’t like it nearly as much. Let’s get back to that and I’ll get into the reasons why.

Sonnenfeld had great success with the first outing, but has since proven in the years to come that tends to be a trend with him. Men in Black was new and brilliant with significant changes from its comic book source material to make it a scifi comedy. The sequels were…ahem less than stellar. I shall also only name this film once, I will never review it without financial compensation – Sonnenfeld is responsible for Wild Wild West. *shudder*

For reasons I don’t fully understand even now, rather than using the writers from the first film again they went with a new untested writer. Perhaps Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson couldn’t meet the time table Paramount set. This has been known to happen before, so instead we get first time screenwriter Paul Rudnick, who has but one movie I recognize since – the forgettable Stepford Wives.

While the success and atmosphere of the first film and the cast of Addams’ made it difficult to stray too far – somehow they did. Now the story itself isn’t so bad, but it plays on nearly the same theme as the first film. A con artist (this time something more) inserts her way into the family and focuses on Fester. The family is too naive in their own special way that they can’t see it. It really does feel like the first movie rehashed more poorly as so much of the family connection is separated here. We also introduce the poor joke of a newborn child – because its the early 90s and babies must be in everything! Granted the summer camp scene while painful did deliver so many of the memorable lines. That comes down to successful casting again.

Every member of the Addams clan returns to reprise their roles. With time and experience Ricci became a scene stealer between films. In the first one, she was good – here she is a mistress of all that is Wednesday Addams and can even steal scenes from Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, and Christopher Lloyd. Honestly she steals every scene she is in. I am still not a fan of the Lloyd casting as Fester, but I can’t think of anything better.  The casting I think I like least is Joan Cusack. Her voice is near nails on a chalkboard for me. I just cannot stand her in this film.

What I enjoyed was seeing a very young David Krumholtz (NUMB3RS, Serenity), and cameos by people we know and love now such as Nathan Lane, David Hyde Pierce,  and Tony Shalhoub. Another point I enjoy, while I loathe the character archetype, the character of Amanda Buckman was played by Mercedes McNab was the same girl from the first movie in the girl scout scene. It was a cute callback and quite honestly entirely possible to be the same character. McNab later went on to play Harmony Kendall in Buffy and Angel.

Now I kind of ripped the movies plot apart above, but while the plot may fail – the jokes are just funnier. It is a far more quotable and memorable movie. Even after watching the first yesterday, and loving it all over again, I am hard pressed to quote it. It just doesn’t stick. This one does.

TL;DR

I think, in retrospect, I would switch the two films. While I do love the first and have some significant problems with the second, the second just ends up being a better film over the passage of time. The first film is timeless, but not memorable. The second film is clearly 90s, but far more memorable.

Both have strengths and weaknesses – but as I said before the second just tends to be a bit better of a film for me. My crush for Wednesday Addams continues to this day because of this film. I honestly swear I would try to be more like her if I thought I could get away with it more.

So there it is: Addams Family Values, a modern classic and a comedy (black as it may be at times) that I love and recommend.

It may take time to grow on you but I really think it does.

 

Darke Reviews – The Addams Family (1991)

The awesome thing about being totally and completely freelance? The ability to write and give opinion (an important word) based on my own judgements without outside influence. I have promised a review a day this month on the theme of horror, halloween, and general linkage between those. As an extra challenge I have decided to review classic movies every other day. As much as I love Beautiful Creatures, it is not a classic. Tonight however, I feel confident in ruling this a classic. The Addams Family.

Based on the works of Charles Samuel Addams (who at one point in his life lived on Elm Street) during his time as a cartoonist for the New Yorker. His cartoons, which weren’t always about the Family, ran from 1940 until his death in 1988. A syndicated show ran on ABC from 1964 until 1966 for 64 episodes. This is the series most people are familiar with and the iconic looks and personalities are most derived. I cannot in good conscience talk about the Addams family without discussing the raw, controlled storm of insanity and energy that is John Astin (and his eyes) in the role of Gomez. The beautifully gothic, gorgeous, and svelte vamp that is Carolyn Jones as the family matriarch Morticia. Jackie Coogans Fester and Ted Cassidy as Lurch (You Raaaaang). These were truly the creation of media icons that last half a century later. While the actors Wednesday and Pugsley originally were mostly forgettable, they too brought the comic characters to life with their look and personality, even with the children’s ages at 6 and 8. Even Hanna Barbara attempted an animated series in 1973, which only lasted 16 episodes. They even co starred in an episode of Scooby Doo, then again who didn’t.

In 1991, Barry (Men In Black) Sonnenfeld created a movie adaptation of the series as first directorial role. He had previously worked as a director of photography in such classics as Misery, Millers Crossing, and When Harry Met Sally. How he got into comedic movies after , I have no idea. I have to admit aging Wednesday and Pugsley was a good move to make them something a little more manageable and believable in many respects.  He worked from a script by Caroline Thompson who had previously only worked on Edward Scissorhands. I suppose working with Burton helped her understand the atmosphere required for an Addams family film, she would later write the screenplay for Nightmare Before Christmas and the Corpse Bride. There is also a screenplay credit for Larry Wilson, best known for Beetlejuice. It is abundantly clear these two writers had the pedigree and background to understand the appropriate tone and character flavor for an Addams family film.

They also had the unenviable task of reintroducing the world to a family few of the 80s generation would know, unless like me they enjoyed them in syndication. I suppose that explains much about me now too eh? They sadly fell into the trap of so many of the people adapting TV series to film. There’s a belief you have to establish the characters and introduce them in a new way. I am not so sure on this theory and I am hard pressed to think of a tv to film transfer that doesn’t do this. It doesn’t always work and it slows the progress of the film. Sadly as much as I love the Addams, the story here is probably the weakest part. The con artist to get in the family and steal their fortune. It works as an introduction, but just is kinda flat and not nearly as memorable as its sequel (review tomorrow). While it does bring to life most of the characters, their own personalities in a stronger story could do the same.

The late great Raul Julia captures most of Astin’s performance mania but puts a slightly more refined and less comical edge to it. If the original was played straight, this one is played to the razors edge. I do love Angelica Huston’s Morticia, but she doesn’t quite capture the exquisiteness of Jones. She does her part, but something seems off. Like they tried too hard to touch on what Jones did. It was good just not great, but I don’t think I can blame Huston here. She gives it her all and when she and Julia are together I see the chemistry.

Gomez & Morticia Meme

This is a core truth for me.

 

Gomez and Morticia were near perfect in this more deadpan take on the characters, without a laugh track, but the real standout for 14 year old me – Wednesday. This was Christina Ricci’s second film role and one of my earliest and longest lasting crushes of a fictional character.  The aging of the character for the film (approx 11 based on Ricci’s age) made it work as a character as I said before. Ricci though sold it in every single scene. Deadpan delivery – check. Creepy Astin like eye movements – check. Even the few times she smiled – check. The personality and growth of the character from 6 to 11 were clear and I can see this being the girl she grew into (also the girl I wanted to be and lets face it kinda am). Pugsley took the backseat this time and was somewhat dopey and dimwitted, but still captured much of the original characters quirks. The two children have as much chemistry together as siblings as the parents do. The subtle looks with the brothers and sisters stereotypical antagonism worked.  The 7′ (2.13m) tall Carel Struyken perfectly nailed Lurch. This may seem like an easy task but such minimalistic acting is not at all easy and falling into line against what Cassidy did was difficult. The weakest member is probably the strongest comic in the bunch and that is Christopher Lloyd as Fester. There’s something missing about his performance, even within the confines of the films style and adaptation from the original it doesn’t feel like a modern evolution of Jackie Coogan; where so many of the others do.

From an FX standpoint, for 1991 the movie actually does fairly well. The downside is the 90s need to insert bad music into movies to help them sell, with a clip from MC Hammer playing at one point. The infamous Thing loooked pretty good then, but doesn’t hold up nearly as well twenty three years later. What they do right is so many of the subtle background practical effects through the film. The things that give it the Addams character as much as the family itself. Yes, once again until Act 3 when the final few shots of the climax were painful even then. They even found time to insert the original theme – which is important.

TL;DR

Agree with me or not, The Addams Family is a modern classic. It successfully reinvented and reinvigorated the Addams and provided us several films after. Even though the story was somewhat weak, the characters were amazingly strong. If you want to know me – watch this movie and watch Wednesday.

I do recommend the film aside though as a solid two hours of entertainment that can be shared with the family or enjoyed privately. This one makes me smile.

I must now debate Addams viewing parties…..

Until tomorrow when we review the Addams Family Values.