Longtime readers may recall a little game I play when I’m this far behind on my watch list. I’ve called it many names in the past, but the basic gist of “cinema roulette” is simple: I show up at the multiplex at whatever convenient time, then I buy a ticket for whatever happens to be showing next. And my luck of the draw wasn’t great this time.
It seems that The Addams Family (2019) has already aged poorly. Barely anyone seems to remember the film that only came out two years ago, and I’ve spoken with good friends who adore the Addams clan yet couldn’t stand the movie. Personally, I remember liking it. The film had its flaws, sure, but it was still a superbly cast and humorous take that did a neat job of making the Addamses relevant to the modern day. I very distinctly remember looking forward to the sequel.
Even so, it still felt like The Addams Family 2 came right out of nowhere. That could be the first animated film’s lack of staying power in the cultural zeitgeist, but I’m sure it was also a factor that we were in the middle of the pandemic. After seeing the same trailers umpteen times for No Time to Die, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and The King’s Man, I think we were all taken by surprise to find that Hollywood had unfrozen long enough to come out with something new.
As explained in the trailer, the basic premise for the sequel is “The Addams Family goes on a road trip.” Gotta be honest, I was really looking forward to that. It’s a clean and simple premise, loaded with potential for jokes, a prime opportunity for the Addams’ macabre quirkiness to clash with the mainstream populace at large.
Granted, the stated reason for the road trip is that Wednesday and Pugsley have grown distant from their parents, and that’s a sticking point with at least one correspondent of mine. The argument goes that the Addams Family has to be a perfectly happy and loving family unit bound together by their unusual tastes and hobbies, that’s the whole point of the franchise. I would counter-argue there is room for conflict in even the most happy and loving of family dynamics, as demonstrated in The Addams Family (2019) among countless other pictures. But again, it’s my understanding that a lot of fervent Addams Family fanatics didn’t like the first movie, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t like this aspect of the sequel.
Imagine my surprise to find that the trailers weren’t entirely honest. Not like that’s unheard of, to be sure, but the entire central thrust of the plot has been wholly absent from all the advertisements and promotions that I’ve ever seen. A wise decision, because it sucks. Let’s take it from the top.
The film opens with Wednesday Addams (voiced once again by Chloe Grace Moretz), mortally embarrassed that her parents (a returning Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron) showed up to her school’s science fair. Wednesday’s entry into the competition is a radical new process in which a person’s undesirable and/or annoying personality traits can be swapped out by the more desirable traits of certain animals. She tests this new process on her Uncle Fester (a returning Nick Kroll), granting him the preternatural intelligence of Wednesday’s pet squid.
Wednesday’s experiment catches the attention of Cyrus Strange (Bill Hader), a billionaire mad scientist who wants to use the young Addams girl’s invention to rewrite people’s personalities for his own sinister purposes. Further complicating matters, Cyrus has come into possession of evidence strongly suggesting that Wednesday Addams was misplaced at birth, and Cyrus Strange is her actual biological father.
Where do I even begin to unpack all this bullshit?
First of all, Uncle Fester spends the rest of the movie gradually turning into a giant squid. That’s his whole schtick. That and giving terrible romantic advice to Pugsley (the only returning character who got recast — Finn Wolfhard aged out, so he got replaced by a vastly inferior Javon Walton), whose subplot is in learning how to get a girlfriend. Everything about both of these characters’ subplots here is godawful to watch, a serious downgrade from the material they had in the previous film (which wasn’t much in the first place).
Secondly, there’s the theme of wishing that people — particularly Wednesday’s family — were more perfect, less annoying, less stupid, and so on. In particular, there’s Cyrus’ stated goal of making people into better workers, better soldiers, more pliant consumers that fit in better with the world at large, and so on. It’s not a bad idea to explore in an Addams Family picture. The problem is that it comes wrapped up in all this science fiction mumbo-jumbo horseshit that doesn’t remotely match the tone of this property.
This brings me directly to the third point: The statement that family is determined by more than genetics. That’s a perennial favorite theme for any family picture, and therefore could’ve made an elegant theme in an Addams Family picture. But there are many problems with it here. For one thing, as Wednesday herself explicitly points out, Lurch (voiced once again by co-director Conrad Vernon) has long been established as a treasured member of the Addams Family despite his total lack of any blood relation to the clan. This is acknowledged and never once factored into Wednesday’s reckoning with her own uncertain parentage. STUPID.
Which brings me to perhaps the most important point: Wednesday seems to genuinely hate her family in this picture. Yes, she and Pugsley were always trying to maim each other, but the first film made it look like their version of playful sibling rivalry. Even when Wednesday bickered with her parents in the previous film, it was always obvious that their differing opinions came from a place of genuine love.
There’s none of that here. From first to last, Wednesday fiercely resists any act of familial affection, she outright rejects everything she ever was or got as an Addams, she can’t stand to be anywhere near her parents, she genuinely seems to want Pugsley dead… it’s awful. It’s repulsive, it’s unfunny, and it runs entirely counter to the spirit of the greater franchise.
See, here’s the thing to remember: The Addams Family has been around for over 80 goddamn years. The live-action TV show and its relentlessly catchy theme song have been a constant pop culture presence since freaking 1964. We know who these characters are. We know what makes them tick and why we keep them around. We know when they’re being tweaked and reinvented for a modern audience — part of what made the first film so great was how it used the Addams Family to skewer relatively modern concepts like reality TV and social media. But by the same token, we know when the characters are reworked to the point where a portrayal runs entirely counter to everything we know and love about the property.
Yes, there are admittedly some clever sight gags, but some land harder than others. The voodoo doll gag was loaded with comedic potential, even if it clashed terribly with Wednesday’s established “mad science” schtick for the film. There’s a “hairball” joke involving Kitty and Cousin Itt (once again voiced by Snoop Dogg) that should’ve been much funnier for the setup. But roughly around the 40-minute mark, there’s a horribly egregious product placement only somewhat redeemed by an inspired visual gag. God help me, I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Then came the one-hour mark. This is when Lurch breaks into song for a dance number set to “I Will Survive”. I might add that this song break comes entirely out of nowhere and has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the plot. And just like that, this whole line of animated films completely jumped the shark. I never want to see another sequel to this movie after that Big-Lipped Alligator Moment.
Such a damn shame that the movie is a terrible waste of a good cast. The film couldn’t find a good use for Oscar Isaac, though at least Charlize Theron gets to bring some measure of gravitas. Chloe Grace Moretz makes effective use of her ample screentime, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that the burgeoning starlet was made the centerpiece of this particular plot. Bette Midler came back to voice Grandma, though she may as well not be there at all. Elsewhere, we’ve got Nick Kroll, Bill Hader, and even Wallace Shawn on hand (he’s playing Cyrus’ lawyer, tasked with chasing the Addamses through their cross-country tour), all wonderful voice acting talents. Hell, I don’t even mind Snoop Dogg voicing Cousin Itt — the character’s treatment here is genuinely funny to me.
The Addams Family 2 made a lot of bold choices, and every single one of them backfired. I’m not onboard with a Wednesday Addams who’s actively malicious towards her family, I hate the film’s treatment of her parentage question, and the entire third act is a load of hot garbage. I’m astounded and saddened that the filmmakers tweaked the characters just right in the first movie, only to push harder and farther until they completely broke what made the Addams Family so lovable in the first place. I’m not surprised to see that the film had no less than four credited directors and co-directors, because this really does feel like a pile of half-baked ideas that totally fail to mesh into anything worthwhile.
Last I checked, the Netflix TV adaptation — in which Tim Burton tells the story of an adult Wednesday Addams — is still in the pipeline. We’ll have to hope that one delivers a worthy modern take on the material, because this animated film series just got trashed. Stick with the 2019 film, don’t see this movie, and don’t bother with any other sequels that might get released.