Warning! Spoiler Alert!
“Gomez, wonderful news. I’m going to have a baby–right now.”
I like to imagine that on a bleak hill somewhere in Los Angeles, maybe tucked away in a forgotten part of Griffith Park, a crumbling mansion houses a mysterious and kooky family prone to histrionics and macabre glamor. And no, I’m not talking about Grey Gardens. This family is bigger, has far more money, and has come to symbolize the intelligent outsider. I’m talking, of course, of the Addams Family. Cue the theme song:
As far as sequels go, Addams Family Values isn’t that great of a movie. This is no The Godfather II. In terms of plot, Addams Family Values (along withe the first movie, The Addams Family) suffers from one of the most difficult story-telling conundrums of the modern age. How do you write a believable conflict for a family that thrives on, and truly revels in, conflict with the laws of physics, nature, and danger? The writers came up with two answers. One, create a threat to their money. And the Debbie storyline (murderous gold-digger marries Uncle Fester for the family fortune) shows they hardly tried their best. In fact, that plot is particularly shameful since it was the plot of the first movie. The Fester/Debbie relationship is only saved by the fact that Joan Cusack is hilarious. Her comic timing and over-the-top facial expressions save a majority from the movie being too tedious.
The more intelligent answer to the conflict conundrum of the Addams clan is to put them in direct conflict with the outside world. Perfect, let’s send Wednesday and Pugsley to summer camp to interact with normies. When you first encounter the family you’re sort of repulsed, a little confused, and very often scared. You don’t think you could relate to them, thinking that you’d relate to the folks at the summer camp rather than the dark and twisted Addams crew, but once you’ve spent a few moments in the Addams mansion, you begin to wish you were part of that family. They have a loyalty to each other and a certain classic aesthetic that they all take very seriously. Who else has a family cemetery adjacent to their dilapidated mansion? When the money-thieving Debbie realizes Wednesday, who is nobody’s fool, is onto her, she convinces Morticia and Gomez to pack them off to camp.
The camp segments of this movie (and boy, I said a mouthful there) are among the greatest moments in the Addams franchise. So much so, that the famous Thanksgiving pageant they put on entitled “A Turkey Named Brotherhood” is venturing into classic territory. With Wednesday (portrayed masterfully by Christina Ricci) leading a tribe of perceived social pariahs and misfits, white supremacy is thwarted by the greater truths and principles of indigenous genocide. This is the movie’s genius. Yuppie white families are the greatest enemies of the Addams philosophy. In the first movie, when a girl scout asks Wednesday if her lemonade is made of real lemons, Wednesday retorts, “Are you girl scout cookies made of real girl scouts?” And when the first Thanksgiving is dissolved into a vigilante riot scene—the pilgrims burning, the camp counselors roasting on a spit—Wednesday, who is finally in her element, strikes a match as the Addams theme swells.
The Addams family isn’t weird because their pet is a dismembered hand. The Addams Family is weird because society has created a stigma against actual taste and intelligence. When Debbie has succeeded in taking Uncle Fester from the family, Morticia (played by a black-clad Angelica Houston at her most Goddess-esque) stands in Debbie’s tacky home and forgives her for everything she’s done (enslavement, a sexual spell) but what she cannot forgive is Debbie’s use of pastels. When in the opening sequence, a pastel-clad little girl tells Wednesday and Pugsley how her “mommy kissed daddy and the angel told the stork, and the stork flew down from heaven and left a diamond under a leaf in the cabbage patch, and the diamond turned into a baby!” Pugsley says, “Our parents are having a baby too,” to which Wednesday dryly adds,
The Addams credo should be “We stand for truth and good taste.” Instead, of course, their credo is actually “We gladly feast on those who would subdue us.” I like to think that their weapons against a world that doesn’t understand them is truth and a level of self-love gurus spend a lifetime looking for. They delight in their own eccentricities because to themselves they aren’t eccentric. It’s perfectly normal to have your family weddings in the cemetery. It’s perfectly normal for children to play with a guillotine and dress up your infant little brother as Marie Antoinette. At first you laugh at them, but soon you want to be them.
And in closing, I’d be remiss to mention the great Raul Julia who truly has only one great scene in the entire movie. As the family patriarch, he gave a life to the Gomez character that easily dethrones John Astin as the consummate Gomez. Raul Julia’s passing robbed the world of a beautiful, talented man who gave believable life to a horny husband obsessed with murder and mayhem. In Addams Family Values, as his brother is taken from him, as his children are carted off to their personal version of hell, Gomez takes matters into his own hands when the police (played, naturally by Nathan Lane) fail to help him. I leave you with his glorious meltdown.