Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: With Coming 2 America now available to rent from home, we’re offering our own belated sequel to a past Watch This theme and singing the praises of more good comedy sequels.
It’s rare for a sequel to be more memorable than the first movie, but Addams Family Values outshines its 1991 predecessor. Barry Sonnenfeld’s original wasn’t dull, but it was designed mostly as a re-introduction to the characters for a new audience that likely didn’t grow up watching the ’60s sitcom, with an incredible cast winning over even those without fond memories of the all-together-ooky clan. Christina Ricci became the most recognizable version of Wednesday Addams, inspiring a new generation of goth girls. Anjelica Huston and Raúl Juliá delivered a refreshing portrayal of a married couple that’s still madly in love over a decade into their marriage. And with Christopher Lloyd playing him, Uncle Fester became an even more lovable goof. But Addams Family Values is the movie that allows us to fully fall in love with these characters, furthering the development of their stories and reminding us that even as outsiders, the Addams are actually pretty relatable at their core.
The plot mostly revolves around the newest addition to the family, Baby Pubert, whose birth inspires jealousy in Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) and Wednesday. (Convinced that when a family has a new baby, one of the other children has to die, the two spend some time amusingly trying to murder their new brother.) Eventually, it’s decided that a nanny must be hired. None of the applicants (including a hippie played by Cynthia Nixon) seem to be a good fit. That is, until the glamorous Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack) steps into the gothic Addams manor. This isn’t a typical role for Cusack, who gets to play the villain for once: a murderer in disguise who wants to marry and then kill Fester for his money. She’s fabulous, like a far more sinister version of Meredith from the 1998 Parent Trap.
After Wednesday picks up on her ulterior motives, Debbie convinces Gomez and Morticia to send the kids to summer camp. Sunny and cheerful, it’s the last place you’d ever expect the Addams children to end up—and that’s what makes it such a perfect new setting, ripe for chaos and full of obnoxious foils for the macabre siblings to bounce off. Especially Wednesday: Though the film generates tension through the supposed A plot of Fester’s doomed marriage to a murderer, this is really the Addams daughter’s movie. She gets the best lines during the camp scenes, delivering withering deadpan zingers—many of which have been meme-ified for years—at her new nemesis, Amanda Buckman (Mercedes McNab), a snobby rich girl who puts down Wednesday just because she looks and acts different than the other girls. (Everyone knows an Amanda.)
It all comes to a head in the justly celebrated climax of this storyline: a musical recreation of the first Thanksgiving that devolves into fiery, historically revisionist chaos, as well as a pointed (and ahead of its time) speech from Wednesday about white people’s mistreatment of Native Americans that surely radicalized some young viewers. The film’s screenwriter, Paul Rudnick, told The Hollywood Reporter that he wrote the movie as a spoof of the George H.W. Bush-era Republican idea of “traditional family values.” Using Wednesday as the defiant symbol of resistance to those ideals is a genius, unexpected move—especially in ostensible family fare. It also makes the droll character even more lovable. She just wants to be accepted for who she is without compromising her identity. What’s more relatable than that?