The Daily Stream: Addams Family Values Is Not Only A Darkly Wonderful Family Film, It's Also A Truly Great Sequel

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Addams Family Values" (1993)

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: On paper, a sequel to an adaptation of a 1960s TV series should be a lifeless, by-the-numbers stale cash-in, but "Addams Family Values" took the success of the first movie and used that to up the pitch-black humor and weirdness to a level that most likely had movie execs sweating in their suits. A black widow killer, a baby with a mustache, and the most cheerfully horrendous summer camp ever ... this movie has everything!

Why It's Essential Viewing

It's hard to think of a film like this being made in the studio system today, but the early '90s was a very odd period for movies, particularly the bizarre sub-sub-subgenre that is comedic reboots of popular old TV shows. "The Addams Family" and "The Brady Bunch" are the prime examples and even though they don't fit exactly into this sub-sub-subgenre, SNL's "Coneheads" and "Wayne's World" feel of a piece to this kind of specific humor as well. They were all way better than they had any right to be and audiences ate them up.

I'm not over-exaggerating here. Everybody talked about these movies, everyone saw them, everyone loved them. For adults they were water cooler movies, for children playground talk movies.

These were event movies that were hugely successful in theaters and doubly so at the video stores. We're talking McDonalds tie-ins huge.

It helped that these movies were good. "The Addams Family" in particular took the zany 1960s TV show concept of a lovingly macabre family confounding the disturbingly normal world around them and ran with it, perfectly casting Raul Julia as Gomez Addams, Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams, Christopher Lloyd as Fester Addams, and Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams.

Add on to that lively direction from Barry Sonnenfeld, cutting edge visual effects (I remember multiple schoolyard conversations about how the sentient hand, known as Thing, effect was done. It couldn't be a puppet, but how could it just be someone's hand!?!), and an absolutely wonderful script full of double entendres, sharp-witted barbs, and a surprising amount of heart and you have two back-to-back miracle films.

Now, I love "The Addams Family." It's wonderfully idiosyncratic, super funny and charming, and delightfully dark, but I think I love "Addams Family Values" just a little bit more. Again, they're both miracles and the more time that passes since their release the more they stand out as anomalies, but if I had to choose a favorite I gotta go with "Values."

For one thing, the sequel has a better villain.

'Til Death Do Us Part

Joan Cusack's Debbie Jellinsky is cartoonishly evil and she'd be absolutely absurd in a more grounded world, but when pitted against the Addamses, her black widow killer character is on even playing ground. The first time around it was a story about someone trying to con the Addams family out of their fortune using what we think is a double of their long lost Uncle Fester (turns out it was the real Uncle Fester all along!) and this one's about kind of the same thing, but done with a way more sadistic approach.

Debbie is hired as a nanny for the newest addition to the family, a little mustachioed baby named Pubert. Let's take a second to bask in that name, shall we? Calling a bouncing baby boy (who was actually played by female twins, by the way) Pubert is about the funniest damn thing I can think of.

Now, Debbie ingratiates herself right away. She vibes with the family's dark humor and is ridiculously sexy, two big pluses for any outsider. Obviously her ulterior motives are easy to spot, but interestingly enough, that's part of the charm she has on the family. They like her dark side! Especially Fester.

The tragedy here is that Debbie would have fit right into the family if she wasn't so greedy. They saw her and accepted her when no one else in society would, but she was too caught up in her own ego and greed to let them bring her into the fold.

Her goal is to marry and murder Uncle Fester so she can inherit his chunk of the Addams fortune and boy does she try. Turns out these Addamses aren't easy to kill and Fester misinterprets all her attempts as part of their love language. This serial killer who is repulsed by her target only grows more and more frustrated as her attempts on his life only serve to deepen his crush even further.

Wednesday and Puglsey see right through Debbie at the start and Debbie uses her powers of persuasion to remove them from the situation, which gives us the whole subplot about the two dark weirdo kids going to rich-kid summer camp. Upon first viewing this was my favorite aspect of the movie, thanks in no small part to 12-year-old me falling head over heels in love with Wednesday Addams.

The True Faces of Evil

Looking back on it now, it's such a great middle finger to white privilege, portraying the smiling and cheerful Gary Granger and Becky Martin-Granger (Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski) as the creepiest things in a movie with a Frankenstein butler and a baby sitting under a falling guillotine. Both MacNicol and Baranski exude child beauty pageant mom energy and harbor so much bigotry for those at the school that are sick, people of color, or Jewish. Debbie may have tried to electrocute Uncle Fester in the bath, but she doesn't hold a candle to these frickin' weirdos.

In that way this section is so ahead of the curve. The whole thing culminates in a play about the first Thanksgiving, which is of course whitewashed to be very happy-go-lucky and certainly excludes any of the nasty genocide stuff that followed. 

Well, Wednesday has other plans for that and as darkly humorous as her hijacking of the play is, it's also the more accurate depiction of what those times were actually like.

They Don't Make 'Em Like This Anymore

Both of the "Addams Family" films hold up extremely well, in large part thanks to how dark the humor is, which makes them both unique examples of studio tentpole filmmaking. The fact that these are big family movies and were taken as such is the reason why they work. If they had done a dark, gritty, somber low-budget "Addams Family" it wouldn't have the same effect, because part of the joke is that the darkness and sexuality inherent in these characters (is there anything hotter than Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston dancing the tango?) is being served up as wholesome family entertainment.

We need more odd ducks like "The Addams Family" films in our popular filmmaking. I think the closest we got after these films were the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" adaptations and, frankly, that's just not enough. Kids today are spoiled with MCU, Pixar, and Laika films but it's not very often an "Addams" slips through and that's a damn shame.