1993’s Addams Family Values was an improvement on its predecessor in almost every way. The 1991 original, despite an intriguing premise and one of the most perfectly assembled casts of all time, was an introduction to the world of the Addams for many viewers who weren’t around when the live-action TV series aired its final episode in 1966, or even the animated Hanna-Barbera show in 1973.
And so, the film played on the concept of the Addams Family instead, spending much of its time immersing the audience into the unusual world, constantly needing to remind us of the family’s macabre leanings with one-liners, puns, and contrarian verbiage. The sequel, however, was unburdened by these prerequisites and was able to truly have fun with its characters instead.
Of course, the Addams Family existed even prior to the ‘60s sitcom, with Charles Addams’ one-panel comics for The New Yorker dating back to 1938. Nevertheless, the pair of ‘90s movies essentially redefined the Addams Family with more realized characterizations and a much darker tone to match the period, having since become the definitive version of the property for many fans.
2019’s The Addams Family animated reboot, the first adaptation in 21 years, took from both the original ‘30s comic panels and ‘90s movies to concoct one discombobulated mash-up that would make Dr. Frankenstein pull the plug. Setting up characters that were hardly pinned down in a world rife with contradictions in order to match some quasi-woke objective, The Addams Family didn’t lose the spirit of the originals – any of them – because it never had that spirit to begin with.
2021’s The Addams Family 2 benefits not just from the same sequel perks as Addams Family Values, but from having an entirely new writing team (Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Ben Queen, and Susanna Fogel) who seems to grasp the non-PC ethos of the franchise (for the most part) and is free to deviate from the requisite setup beats.
We follow our titular family, Gomez (Oscar Isaac), Morticia (Charlize Theron), Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz), Pugsley (Javon Walton), and Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll), as they head cross-country on a spontaneous road trip to California – Death Valley to be specific. There’s no real reason to spark this plot other than Gomez wanting to become closer as a family, but stakes hardly matter when the bar has been set so low.
Along the way, they are followed by a lawyer (Wallace Shawn) representing a man who claims that Wednesday was switched with his daughter at birth. Even though Gomez and Morticia ignore these statements, they are nonetheless pursued at each and every stop on their trip, including Niagara Falls, Sleepy Hollow, San Antonio, and the Grand Canyon.
Despite the fresher premise and the actual presence of comedy, The Addams Family 2 doesn’t shake every flaw from his predecessor. For one, the character of Wednesday still doesn’t feel right. Neither falling into the sweet little girl archetype from the original nor Christina Ricci’s iconic darkly contemptuous take from the ‘90s, Wednesday has been given an existential crisis. Where in the first film she uncharacteristically longs to fit into a normal society, here she’s almost the exact opposite. Her coding seems to change based on what’s convenient for the plot, although I much prefer this revamp over the previous one.
The film has also increased the mean-spiritedness in order to compensate for any lack of spooky ambiance elsewhere. Wednesday is incredibly mean to her brother, literally abusing him with a voodoo doll that eventually gets chucked off a waterfall (and Pugsley with it), embarrassing him as he nervously tries to impress a girl. This is only one instance of many.
Maybe the originals were mean-spirited as well, but the Addamses always seemed to have an “us against them” mentality, the family unwilling to betray their own kind for the amusement of outsiders. And at least in the past we’ve had actual live-action human faces to look at. When we can see the humanity behind someone’s eyes, it’s much easier to sympathize with them and view their actions as comedic rather than malicious. The members of the Addams family are difficult to attach ourselves to in the first place, especially in an animated medium.
Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon return to direct, retaining the same contempt for humanity and normalcy, even if this time their characters have abandoned those grudges. To their credit, the filmmakers actually use this animated sandbox to their advantage in the sequel, heightening comedy and maximizing the capabilities of the action without becoming too far removed from real life – even if the medium itself gets in the way of the intended emotional investment.
Some of the biggest moments of inspiration come from the cool musical score by Mychael and Jeff Danna, which possesses the film with a spooky mood that a road picture just won’t have, no matter who your characters are. It’s a bizarre matchup that actually works here as the movie’s focus is less on the setting and more on the Addamses themselves.
2019’s animated Addams Family reboot wasn’t a good movie. It undermined the very spirit of the characters with themes of togetherness and kumbaya, resulting in the wincing of audiences everywhere. But there’s a reason why sequels of bad films are often better – Addams Family or not.
As an aside, it’s a wonder how filmmakers can make the textures of inanimate objects and background scenery so realistic in computer animation these days, while simultaneously failing to give actual humans any sort of authentic look. Human characters always suffer from awkward proportions and glossy skin. Why have we just accepted that this is how cartoon people should look now?
At times haunting and sinister, The Addams Family 2 takes some surprising risks and manages to surpass the inherent hurdles of presenting these characters in this medium by avoiding stock ideas and building a fun, and unanticipated, plot around a road trip, which is laughably preposterous in the exact same way as the summer camp at the heart of Addams Family Values. It still might not find the exact essence that longtime fans of any incarnation are looking for, but this sequel discovers its own outré tone in the process.