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Cult Classics: Revisiting the Twisted, Unofficial Thanksgiving Dark Comedy ‘Addams Family Values’

Cult Classics: Revisiting the Twisted, Unofficial Thanksgiving Dark Comedy ‘Addams Family Values’

In 1991, director Barry Sonnenfeld (Schmigadoon!) reintroduced us to cartoonist Charles Addams’ delightfully macabre family who first graced the pages of the New Yorker in his movie The Addams Family. But with Paul Rudnick’s (Sister Act) sharp, satirical follow-up script, Addams Family Values could be a standalone movie. 

The Addams Family set the stage but the sequel outdid its predecessor. It’s not even necessary to see the first one to understand the events of the second. Despite not meeting the criteria of a holiday-themed movie, it was released on November 19, 1993, and yes, all the semi-wholesome weirdness still holds up 29 years later (as does Tag Team’s Addams Family theme and “Whoomp! (There It Is)” remix).

Addams Family Values begins with eternal lovebirds Morticia (Anjelica Huston) and Gomez Addams (Raúl Juliá) welcoming their third child, Pubert (Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper), whom homicidal siblings Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) immediately hate. With the addition of the little mustachioed baby, the Addamses need a nanny. Enter the beautiful but seemingly ordinary Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack), who’s a black widow serial killer with a growing body count. 

Oddly enough, this plot is very similar to The Addams Family, which sees the greedy Abigail Craven (Elizabeth Wilson) and her son Gordon, aka Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) with amnesia, trying to con the Addamses out of the family fortune. But Debbie is a much better villain. She may be a blonde bombshell dressed in white but her wickedly dark sense of humor immediately vibes with the Addamses, making her quite the unique normie. I mean, her reaction to Thing (Christopher Hart), a sentient disembodied hand, is putting its finger in her mouth. 

Wednesday sees through Debbie just like she saw through Craven and Gordon/Fester before he was struck by memory-restoring lightning. In true evil stepmother fashion, Debbie gets Wednesday and Pugsley sent off to summer camp where they can’t derail her plans. Soon after, the literal golddigger Debbie “I want you dead and I want your money” Jellinsky becomes an Addams and the newlyweds move into a McMansion decked out in pastels. Her failed attempts to kill her rich husband are more like murderous foreplay since it’s implied Fester is somehow immortal, or at the very least extremely durable.

Over at Camp Chippewa, Wednesday and Pugsley meet Gary Granger (Peter MacNicol) and Becky Martin-Granger (Christine Baranski), the demented, painfully cheerful counselors who mostly speak in platitudes. There’s also the quintessential ’90s era mean girl Amanda Buckman (Mercedes McNab), who immediately critiques their black outfits. (McNab appeared in The Addams Family as a Girl Scout selling cookies.) Among their fellow outcasts is the sweet and nerdy Joel Glicker (David Krumholtz). He’s entranced by Wednesday’s boldness, and she tolerates him, sparking a beautiful awkward romance.

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Addams Family Values called out white privilege before it was cool. In a 2018 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Paul Rudnick discussed the film’s political commentary and the conservative “family values” slogan of the early 1990s, saying, “In Republican terms, ‘family values’ is always code for censorship and exclusion…I like to believe that the Addams Family is far more loving and accepting than their enemies.” Camp Chippewa is essentially a camp for Young Republicans where everyone is white, blonde, and khaki’d. Anyone outside those parameters is the “other,” and therefore, cast as Native Americans, or as Amanda’s Sarah Miller calls them (twice) “savages.”

Why this summer camp is putting on a whitewashed historically inaccurate Thanksgiving play is never addressed but it seems to further illustrate just how out of touch these people are. Gary’s (racist, ableist, classist) vision crumbles when Wednesday gets real about the holiday’s genocidal origins and leads the other outcasts in setting everything ablaze. 

Wednesday’s not the only one who delivers an epic monologue. Gomez has an on-brand over-the-top theatrical breakdown about his brother, and Debbie gives an impassioned speech justifying her criminal past, complete with a slideshow. If she didn’t want to specifically kill them, the Addamses would have lovedhaving her around. They’re advocates for chaos but a brotherly bond comes first.

But let’s talk about Debbie’s majorly covetable wardrobe. Her soft, light-colored ensembles are quite striking against the usual gloomy gothic surroundings. As she maneuvers her way into Fester’s life, her look goes from chic nanny prospect to virginal seductress to husband-killing femme fatale, headscarf, and all. Costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge (Ghostbusters) perfectly crafted all the Addamses’ signature looks, though Gomez’s dashing suits and Morticia’s tight black dresses are standouts. The Addams matriarch always has an unearthly glow highlighting her eyes (thanks to Huston’s contractually required key light). 

Addams Family Values is an endlessly quotable ’90s gem that should have a place in your Thanksgiving movie rotation if there is such a thing — not because it takes place on the actual holiday or teaches us about sharing with others, but because the bizarre family unit celebrates their love for one another daily. They’re ghoulish and they revel in violence, but they’re also a deeply devoted family. It’s also just a genuinely hilarious movie with a talented cast playing their collectively strange characters to perfection. 

Addams Family Values is available to stream on Netflix.

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