This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
In a better world Addams Family Values would have got both the rich acclaim and enormous box office it merited in 1993. A deliciously playful sequel, it’s 94 minutes of tightly put together comedy, with a bunch of performers that come close to defining “perfectly cast.” Christina Ricci, clinging to a fence as she’s threatened with the Harmony Hut, remains a comedy highlight of 1990s cinema.
But the film didn’t really hit. As much as it was liked, its box office was less than half of the original. It was released the week before Mrs. Doubtfire in the US, and it was the latter that became the widely seen family comedy of Christmas 1993. Addams Family Values would do okay at best, but would fall a long way short of the takings for the first film.
That, in turn, left any hope for an Addams Family 3 in tatters. Then, the tragic early death of Raul Julia in October 1994, at the age of just 54, made a future Addams Family sequel unthinkable.
But then somebody went and thought of it anyway.
Wanting to recapture the box office gold of the first film, and recognizing that the second deserved better, plans were put in place for another project.
This one, though, was from a different company, with different intentions. Paramount distributed the first two Addams Family movies, having snapped up the first film late in production from the financially-challenged Orion. There’s more on that story here. But Warner Bros. and Saban (the Power Rangers people) then had plans for a new television project, The New Addams Family. 15 to 20 years before it became the go-to trend, the idea was to continue the Addams’ adventures on the small screen (although the origins of the Addams Family lie in Charles Addams’ original cartoon strips, and the subsequent TV series, so in this case, it was perhaps more “returning home”).
As such, Warner Bros. started developing what would morph into Addams Family Reunion, a TV movie that was intended to be the pilot for the new series. It looked for some continuity, too, to bring over at least some of the audience goodwill that the movies had generated. Approaches duly went out to Anjelica Huston to reprise the role of Morticia Addams, and Christopher Lloyd to come back as Uncle Fester. Both declined. Christina Ricci and Jimmy Workman, as Wednesday and Puggsley, had grown up, so a return for them was out of the question. And as it happened, only Carel Struycken would return as Lurch (and get a slightly bigger role and a love interest into the bargain), and Christopher Hart would lend a hand to Thing again (as Laurence Rickard pointed out at a recent Den Of Geek event, even using today’s technology, it’s hard to think of Thing being realized any better than he was in the 90s).
A screenplay was ordered from Rob Kerchner and Scott Sandin. The former had experience in cinema-skipping sequels and reboots, with his credits including WarGames: The Dead Code, Casper: A Spirited Beginning, and Turbulence 2: Fear of Flying. The man hired to direct their Addams Family screenplay would be Dave Payne, at that time just coming off Alien Avengers II. Payne, ahead of him, had his mini-horror franchise, Reeker.
It’s an odd film that spat out the other end of this process, a project that firmly proves that sometimes a good cast can’t rescue a movie. While few would dare to step into the shoes of Raul Julia, the chutzpah of the mighty Tim Curry is surely to be admired. He, understandably, plays Gomez in a different, less suave manner to Julia, but it’s still a slightly more restrained Curry we get than you might expect. Personally, I’d have loved a bit more of the City of Zinj-hunting man we got in Congo, but still, Curry is as watchable as ever here.
Alongside him, replacing but not replacing Anjelica Huston, is Darryl Hannah as Morticia. It’s a thankless task she’s got here, made even more difficult by her trying to mimic Anjelica Huston’s take on the role. She doesn’t try to put much distance between the earlier portrayal, and it really doesn’t help, sadly. It feels like she was hamstrung from the off. Even watching Addams Family Reunion nearly two decades after it was released, you can’t help but yearn for Huston’s Morticia to come back. It’s not that Hannah is bad, rather that she puts no stamp on the part. Had the subsequent television series happened, that would have given her more space to explore it. But for the here and now of this movie, she doesn’t get that opportunity.
Curry and Hannah do fare better than most of the re-cast ensemble, though. Pat Thomas as Uncle Fester is best glossed over, for instance, with the character reduced to a one-note idiot on the screen. Faring slightly better, Nicole Figuere, as Wednesday, I think is quite good here. But again, how can she compete with what came before? Still, she puts enough into her performance that she’d continue playing Wednesday when The New Addams Family TV show got greenlit. It only lasted two seasons, but it more wisely chose to recapture the spirit of the original Addams Family TV show, rather than hang on the coat tails of the ’90s movies. Figuere slotted into that ensemble well.
But back to Addams Family Reunion, and things go wrong fairly quickly. The film regularly aches to be like the earlier movies. For instance, it opens with a prolonged sequence where a postman tries to deliver letters to the Addams mansion, and struggles to do so. To be fair to director Payne, he tries to mimic the snappy camerawork of director Barry Sonnenfeld, and makes a decent fist of it. But like many sequences in the film, this delivering letters opening just goes on way too long. And it’s one of the better moments.
In defense of Payne, the moments where he’s set free and lets his camera zip around are among the highlights of a pretty poor movie. The contained 1.33:1 screen ratio does him no favors, mind, and any sense of scale and richness is notably absent, and hammered into the crowd when the film cuts to an outside shot of a cheap-looking Addams mansion.
From the computer graphics title to numerous close-ups in the middle of the frame, you don’t have to look far for clues that this was a TV film. Motions are gone through, crackle and zest is absent, and without much in the sense of panache, you end up looking to the story itself for something of real interest (it’s fair to acknowledge that the two preceding movies hardly had amazing narratives, but barely anyone noticed because they were having so much fun).
Here, the plot sees Gomez and Morticia on the hunt for a family reunion. Not really for social reasons, more to try and come up with a remedy that’ll stop Grandpa and Grandma Addams turning “normal.” Can one of their long-lost relatives help, they wonder? As such, we see the Addams in the outside world, and in the wrong place (a mechanic that worked astoundingly well in the first two Brady Bunch movies of the 1990s, and does not work at all here). They end up at the home of a family called Adams instead (you can’t beat a bit of mistaken identity), leaving Gomez and Morticia to try and find a cure, just from the completely wrong people. A pretty gag-less script makes little use of the setup, and the usually reliable Ed Begley Jr. is asked to tit about for a bit to give the Addams some sort of foil to go up against.
Thinking back, it’s bold they even tried taking the Addams outside of their natural environment, given how successfully taking Wednesday into the “normal” world paid off for Addams Family Values. Addams Family Reunion, though, takes a lower road, and generally settles for pratting around over engineering quality comedy moments. It’s not just that it doesn’t generate chuckles. It starts to get boring.
The B plot, meanwhile, sees a normal couple ending up at the Addams house instead, and are subject to its many macabre trappings. Again, any hope of a Rocky Horror-esque vibe to that is quickly extinguished. They basically grumble and scream a bit, although the production design does improve here.
There are the odd moments, and the film does hunt for fun. Lurch the swimming pool lifeguard is good value, not least when you realize just how hairy his arms are. It’s the details that matter. Meanwhile, there’s a tennis match between Gomez Addams and Ed Begley Jr.’s Phillip Adams that’s edited slightly abruptly, but still manages to go with a bit of a bang. And when Gomez and Morticia do get to have a dance sequence together, it’s good fun.
However, to give you a pure distinction between the old films and new, there’s a moment in said dance when Gomez throws Morticia into the air, and catches her. The problem? It may as well be stop frame animation with a very low frame rate, so badly is the catch itself edited. I’ve never seen a sequence so badly edited to cover up a marrying up of two shots. Don’t believe me?
Also screaming “cheap” at the top of its lungs is the closest the film gets to money shots, as a CG creature chases people around. Er, even by 1998 standards, this was looking ropey…
Then there’s a surprising spirit of meanness that sometimes takes over from the usually macabre foundation of the movie. That doesn’t feel very Addams-y at all to me.
Sadly, particularly given the richness of the source material, it’s hard to conclude anything other than Addams Family Reunion isn’t just an uninteresting curio, it’s a pretty crappy film, made for the wrong reasons. Warner Bros. has all but buried it. It had an initial VHS release, popped up on TV a few times, but there’s little point trying to get the Warner Archive to pop a Blu-ray out. As with most things that don’t go right, there are people trying to make the best of it. Tim Curry is no match for Raul Julia, for instance, but he’s still Tim Curry, and nobody is better at being Tim Curry than him. Some of the production design and ambition is above what its beermat budget allows. The screenplay, too, tries to bring in some characters from the sidelines and give them more to do.
The problem? It falls flat, doesn’t feel like it captures the feel and tone of the Addams Family, and it just doesn’t really work. Apart from that, I loved it.