They’re creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky, and are back for a second animated film from returning directors Greg Tiernan (Sausage Party) and Conrad Vernon (Monsters vs. Aliens). Where the first film explored assimilation versus individuality, the second outing is more interested in teenage rebellion and young love. This creates opportunities for the notorious family to get into all kinds of trouble, the kind that delighted audiences in the 2019 outing, as well as the kinds that were enjoyed in the previous live action films, the television program, or the run of comics by Charles Addams that started the global phenomenon. The difference between The Addams Family 2 and its animated predecessor is that it lacks a certain balance and focus that made the jokes less natural, the references less amusing, and the overall adventure less satisfying.
Since the end of the 2019 adventure, things seem to be about as we left them: parents Morticia and Gomez (voiced by Charlize Theron and Oscar Isaac) remain doting parents, Uncle Fester (voiced by Nick Kroll) continues to run accidental amok, Grandma (voiced by Bette Midler) continues her schemes, Wednesday (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) struggles with her sense of self, and Pugsley (voiced by Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton) is just trying to survive his sister. The main difference this time around is that the kids desire less time with their parents, something which Gomez can’t abide. Seeking a solution, Gomez decides to take the family on a three-week road trip cross-country, believing that a little close-quarters living will improve familial bonds. What he couldn’t expect is the arrival of Mr. Mustela (voiced by Wallace Shawn) whose mysterious benefactor could destroy the Addams family by revealing a terrible secret.
As with any sequel, there’s often a line of balance to be maintained between giving audiences what they loved before while shaking things up a bit. The good news is that if you dug the family dynamic in the first run of this iteration of the Addamses, then you’re going to have a good bit of fun again. The bad news is that this film opts for more instead of more of a good thing. In the first film, the narrative was spread out among the characters, enabling them to each have their own story which then converged with the others neatly in the end. It allowed for a certain conflict to billow and grow until it came to a head. It also created a sense of empowerment in what being an Addams meant for the central four: Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, and Pugsley. This time around, the film pushes them all together with mixed results and in multiple locations. Perhaps it’s the fact that a major portion of the new story is a variation on the father-daughter-growing-apart trope and the way it explores it. This is not the type of family to beat around the bush nor the type to evade any issue of self-identification, so it seems strange that both Morticia and Gomez, in their own respective ways, approach Wednesday’s encroaching teenage identity rebellion with secrecy versus open communication. Yes, it’s a kids’ film and, yes, without their evasion there’s no conflict in the narrative, but it’s a choice that seems odd, even for this odd couple.
It doesn’t help that the Pugsley storyline seems to be more about familial abuse than love as Wednesday grows more malicious than ever and the only one trying to connect with the boy is Fester. The laughs from this particular piece of the narrative often feel mean rather than silly. Keep in mind that my issue isn’t the level of violence, just the character’s intent or participation within and from whence the comedy seems to come. In an early sequence, Fester makes his way to dinner while juggling, slips, verbally reacts to each thud, before finally landing clumsily at the dinner table. The slip happens as a matter of Fester being Fester, his jokes are a variation of several double entendre meant for the adults, and his landing results in Gomez asking why no one comes to dinner through the door? Within the context of the scene, it’s funny as Fester is often the clown in any scene he’s in. But he’s always positioned as in on the joke. There’s something about the presentation of jokes regarding Pugsley that imply a certain victimhood and lack of participation. Where his particular story ends is best not to think about for longer than the film does otherwise you’ll end up with a giant case of “ick.”
Perhaps it’s because the first film contained a clearer broad message about individuality and personal acceptance that this second outing feels so empty by comparison. We get a few delightful vistas with an Addams twist and more Cousin It (voiced by Snoop Dogg), but there’s very little that feels fresh. It’s just more. Thankfully the narrative does at least seed the conflict well so that there’s nothing in the way of a plot hole or truly empty moment, but the resolution is not exactly profound or original either. Given what’s been offered in past iterations, there’s an argument for an Addams story simply being entertaining, even disposably so. These tales offer a beacon to those who feel different, present in a non-conforming manner, and who seek indisputable love. That this film specifically talks an empty game of it is frustrating more than disappointing.
In theaters and on VOD October 1st, 2021.
For more information, head to the official The Addams Family 2 website.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.