The Addams Family/Addams Family Values review by Mike Long

The late 80s saw the beginning of a trend that continues to this day -- turning old television shows into feature films. It can be assumed that this practice was created because the filmmakers knew that the audience would have a certain nostalgic feeling about the projects. But, it was probably done because it meant that less time would have to be spent trying to come up with clever ideas for a movie. Many of the first entries in this trend were re-imaginings of shows from the 1960s. The Addams Family had only run from 1964-1966, but the show was well-known through reruns and probably seemed like the perfect project for the big screen. Paramount Home Entertainment has just released both The Addams Family and its sequel Addams Family Values on a double-feature DVD.

With The Addams Family, we are re-introduced to the familiar characters from the TV show, all of which were based on the cartoons of Charles Addams. Gomez (Raul Julia) is married to Morticia (Anjelica Huston) and their relationship is a fiery and passionate one. They have two children, Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman). Grandma (Judith Malina) is always in the kitchen creating some sort of potion. They also share their huge, foreboding mansion with their butler Lurch (Carel Struycken), a huge man who looks as if hes related to Frankensteins Monster and Thing (played by Christopher Hart), a disembodied hand that scurries through the house. The Addams Family are a truly ghoulish clan, as they revel in morbidity. But, despite the fact that they love strolling through the adjacent graveyard or trying to kill one another, they see their lives are very normal.

As The Addams Family opens, we learn that Gomezs brother, Fester, has been missing for 25 years and presumed dead. Despite the length of time, Gomez misses his brother very much. The family lawyer, Tully Alford (Dan Hedaya) is down on his luck and is intrigued by the story of fester. When he is threatened by Abigail Craven (Elizabeth Wilson) and her son Gordon (Christopher Lloyd), he tells them about Fester and hatches a plan to use Gordon as a Fester look-alike in order to steal the Addams fortune. So, during the Addams annual sance where they attempt to contact Fester, Gordon appears in full garb and starts trying to pass himself off as Fester. The family is skeptical at first, but Gordons mother, posing as a doctor, convinces the Addams that Fester had suffered many traumas and had forgotten much of the past. Despite the skepticism, Gomez is delighted to have his brother back. Will Gordon be able to keep up the charade long enough to get the loot, or will he begin to feel at home with this odd family?

The Addams Family is the epitome of what can go right and wrong with a TV show adaptation. The main problem with the film is that it doesnt have the confidence to stand on its own. Thus, it keeps showing us things which we may (or may not) remember from the TV show (such as the growling bear skin rug, or Morticia pruning the roses) in order to comfort the audience. Its nice to see these moments in living color, but it also slows the film. While doing this, the movie walks that fine line of introducing the characters while at the same time assuming that we know them. But, the movie also does a lot of things right. The casting is dead on and it seems that every actor was born to play their role, most notably Julia, Huston, and Ricci. The script by Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson (both of whom had collaborated with Tim Burton in the past) has some incredibly clever dialogue. Former cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld makes his directorial debut here and his ever-roaming camera gives the movie the kind of manic energy that it sorely needs. The movie has a fantastic look, as the monochromatic home in which the Addams inhabit sharply contrasts with the rest of the world. The story in The Addams Family is sort of pedestrian, but it paves the way for the superior sequel.

Addams Family Values arrived two years after the first film with most of the cast in place (Carol Kane takes over in the role of Grandma) and director Barry Sonnenfeld back on board. The movie opens with two revelations. First, Morticia gives birth to son, whom the family names Pubert. Second, Uncle Fester is quite lonely and wishes that he could have a relationship like the one between Gomez and Morticia. The Addams then go through a string of nannies. Most of them wont stay because Wednesday and Pugsley are trying to kill the baby. But, when Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack) arrives, things change. Despite the fact that Debbie is colorful and bubbly, she doesnt seem effected by the Addams eccentricities and immediately takes to Pubert. Shes not intimidated by Wednesday and Pugsley. But, oddest of all, she begins to flirt with Fester. Is Debbie really that open-minded? Or is she the black widow killer who was profiled on TV. When Wednesday begins to doubt Debbies motivations, Debbie convinces Gomez and Morticia to send the children to summer camp. Then, Debbie is free to take Fester away from the family. Wednesday and Pugsley must find a way to escape from camp and save Fester.

Addams Family Values is one of those rare sequels which is better than its predecessor. Writer Paul Rudnick has taken all of the good points of the first film and amplified them. The dialogue is wittier. The scenes between Gomez and Morticia are creepier. Re-watching the first film, I was surprised by how small Wednesdays role is, because shes the driving force in this film. Christina Ricci is perfect as she plays the role completely straight while delivering devilishly clever lines. Joan Cusacks energetic character meshes well with the family and her back-and-forth with Christopher Lloyd is great. This movie is simply full of classic scenes, from the insanely happy summer camp to the absurdly exciting sequel, Addams Family Values is a great, funny ride.

Kudos to Paramount for releasing these two films together as they truly complement one another. The Addams Family introduces the characters and shows their potential, while Addams Family Values runs screaming with wacky ideas. Together the movies are fun to watch and never dull (and with a retail price of $14.99, this is quite a steal).

The Addams Family/Addams Family Value DVD double-feature creeps onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. Both films have been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfers are enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The Addams Family looks good, as the image is sharp and clear. There is some mild grain here and an occasionally speck on the screen, but otherwise the image is crisp. The colors look fine and the image has a nice depth. There was some video noise at times. Oddly, the newer Addams Family Value shows more grain and its very noticeable at times. Also, this transfer shows several examples of dirt on the image. Again, the colors are fine and the scenes in the Addams mansion are never too dark. Placing both movies on one side of a DVD has created some compression problems, but that's to be expected. Both films carry a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and they both sound very good. Both provide clear and intelligible dialogue. The surround sound and bass response is surprising good on both (better than some newer movies) and the sound design is easy to notice here.

The only extras on this DVD are two trailer for each film.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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