The second animated Addams Family film has big shoes to fill, but they aren’t the same ones as its mediocre predecessor from 2019. The target audience is unlikely to recall this because they were not alive at the time. The Addams Family was a smash hit in 1991, when it moved beyond its comic book origins and subsequent 1960s TV show and into a feature film. It was quickly followed by a sequel. The Addams Family Values sequel, released in 1993, didn’t do as well as the first, but it did serve as a model for that rare breed of comedy sequel, the exceptional comedy sequel. The second live-action Addams Family is shorter, smarter, and all-around funnier than the first movie, and it particularly deepens the character of Wednesday Addams, played by a young Christina Ricci.
In fact, Addams Family Values is probably one of the main reasons why so much Addams Family material has centered on Wednesday since then. She wasn’t much more than an amusingly dour child novelty act on the old TV show. But she’s since starred in an ill-fated Broadway adaptation, a popular web series that was removed from YouTube due to copyright issues, a new Tim Burton-directed Netflix series, and now the animated films, in which she’s voiced by Chloe Grace Moretz. However, by focusing on the eldest Addams child, the new Addams Family 2 highlights how clumsy and misguided its take on Wednesday is — as well as what the animated films get wrong about the family in general.
Addams Family 2 follows in the footsteps of Addams Family Values by removing the Addamses from their natural habitat. Leaving their rickety mansion results in less eye-catching art direction, but a more compelling storey. Unlike the previous sequel, which sent Wednesday and Pugsley to an upbeat summer camp and Uncle Fester into a loveless marriage with a perky gold-digger (“Pastels?” Morticia asks quietly withering disdain while inspecting his new home), this one takes them on a cross-country vacation.
Wednesday is drifting away from the family, according to Gomez (Oscar Isaac, the voice cast’s MVP), though why he believes this isn’t adequately explained, given Wednesday’s trademark icy demeanour. Rather than giving her space, he decides that a close-quarters RV trip will bring her back into the fold. (This sounds eerily similar to the central conflict in Netflix’s recent animated film The Mitchells Vs. the Machines.) Regardless of the dubious motivations, this is a solid framework for an Addams Family film: Put them up against a slew of all-American and decidedly non-gothic tourist traps, and make them interact with more traditional visitors. It sounds like a lot of fun.
Some scenes in the film do follow through on this promise. Gomez is enthralled by the terrifying prospect of riding through Niagara Falls in a barrel, but laments the fact that barrels aren’t sold on site, and that he’ll have to buy “300 pickles” to get one for his family. Pugsley devastates the Grand Canyon with explosives, attempting to improve on nature’s majesty. Even so, those scenes don’t quite capture the Addams’ ghoulish sensibilities. Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon, and Laura Brousseau, filmmakers, have reimagined them as all-purpose zany generators. Here, the naive faith in their own macabre tastes is completely absent.
This is particularly true on Wednesday. The sequel to The Addams Family begins with her competing in the school science fair with a complex plan to imbue her dimwitted Uncle Fester with the intelligence of an octopus. (It fuels one of the few appropriately gruesome running threads in the film, in which Fester begins to mutate into a tentacled creature.) The mad-science angle makes sense, but Wednesday in Addams 2 is still portrayed as a haughty genius who can’t stand the inferior intellects around her while feeling constrained by her tween status. So, in a nutshell, she’s turned into Stewie from Family Guy.
Is this something that could be used for Wednesday work? Perhaps, with the right amount of deadpan morbidity. However, in this film, it actually dehydrates her. After all, especially among children, there is no shortage of megalomaniacal and/or smart-mouthed cartoon characters. Wednesday’s antisocial tendencies and the punishing hegemony of so many childhood activities are sharply contrasted in Addams Family Values: Her opposition to summer camp cheer (as well as a whitewashed play about the first Thanksgiving) puts her in the company of other outcasts.
Both the characterization and Moretz’s vocal performance in Addams Family 2 have a hollow ring of bland quasi-relatability. Ricci made traditional affection a crucial part of her being, and her discomfort with it feels like shtick. Pugsley is less important in the storey, but he too is sanded down to normal kid antics. He has a subplot here where he tries to learn how to impress girls, and his inability to do so isn’t so much due to his ghoulish tendencies as it is due to him being a dork.
All of this highlights how well the Addams family was portrayed in those 1990s live-action films, and how difficult it can be to bring them back to life, even in the seemingly ideal medium of animation. Oscar Isaac nails Gomez’s bumbling ringleadership, and Charlize Theron nails Morticia’s vocal tone. However, the characters do not work together as a family.
Lurch, the subverbal butler who resembles Frankenstein’s monster, breaks into a high-pitched rendition of “I Will Survive” as a way of juxtaposing the creepy and the kooky in the film. Rather than figuring out how to survive in the “normal” world as their inimitable selves, the film transforms the Addams family into a lovable cast of anything-goes cartoon characters.
Adult fans who remember Addams Family Values fondly aren’t the intended audience for Addams Family 2. (Full disclosure: it was a hit with my 5-year-old daughter.) However, many children have seen and enjoyed live-action films, and the Hotel Transylvania films, which feature friendly monsters and more lively animation, are already available. So why make a series of Addams Family cartoons that rip off other franchises and don’t seem to get this family or what makes them funny? Addams Family 2 feels like the ultimate retaliation for those annoyingly cheerful camp counsellors from Addams Family Values: the Addams’ adventures are finally reimagined as too-cute mandatory fun.
Addams Family 2 debuts in theaters and on digital rental services like Amazon and Vudu on Oct. 1.