Regardless of your age or generation, you can probably sing “The Addams Family” theme song, finger snaps included. But many years before the iconic TV show, the macabre title family first appeared, in 1938, in a series of single-panel cartoons in The New Yorker, and afterward went on to star in a live-action movie franchise in the 1990s. In 2019, Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan directed The Addams Family, an animated installment that earned $97.8 million domestically and $200.6 million globally. Now, the two filmmakers are back for the United Artists Releasing and MGM family comedy sequel, The Addams Family 2, exclusively in theaters October 1.
Vernon previously directed or co-directed Shrek 2, Monsters vs. Aliens, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, and R-rated animated comedy Sausage Party. He spoke to Boxoffice Pro about the challenges of recording a voice cast from home, especially when you have noisy neighbors, why the film’s title changed during production, and how Snoop Dogg wrote an original song for the film.
Where were you in the production process on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, “the day everything changed”?
We were still in storyboards. We hadn’t started animation or effects or anything like that. This was a very shortened schedule that we were on. We went from script to screen in two years.
What were the biggest challenges with making this movie during the pandemic?
Making it at home was a challenge, for sure. But once everyone was at home, they had their setups, their rigs at their houses—it went pretty smoothly. The biggest challenge was really just getting this done in time and making it as good as we could.
Many of us had to work from home during the pandemic, but it’s hard to picture making a movie from home!
The whole cast did have to do it from home. Oscar [Isaac, who voices Gomez] did go into a studio, but he was dropped off at the back door, let in with a mask, and then left completely alone. Everybody else did it from their houses. We had to mail them a microphone and a computer with the [audio-recording] program. Then they had to have people come in, with masks and everything, to set up the microphone and the baffles [which provide better acoustic balance].
I think Bette [Midler, who voices Grandmama] did it all by herself. There was like a good hour before we recorded where the tech team was on Zoom with her saying, “You’re going to hit this button, then you’re going to take this and put it over here …” She kept saying, “Isn’t technology amazing?” She couldn’t believe it.
When you’re dealing with recording people at home, there’s cars going by, there’s gardeners with their leaf blowers. There’s all this stuff that we had to stop and wait for. Chloë [Grace Moretz, who voices Wednesday] actually had to go out once and ask the gardeners across the street at her neighbors’ house to stop blowing for half an hour.
Can you get her to come over and ask my neighbor, who’s always using his chainsaw, to knock it off?
[Laughs.] I’ll see what I can do.
In this installment, the family goes on a road trip to visit iconic sites around America. How did you decide which sites they would visit, and whose idea was it for Pugsley to blow up the Grand Canyon?
The idea for blowing up the Grand Canyon came from the writers, though I don’t know exactly who. I think that was always in the script.
We had other destinations planned for the movie. They went to Vegas at one time, they went to Seattle at one point, they took a wrong turn and wound up in Alaska. But that was a one-line gag, so we said, “Let’s not build Alaska [in the computer animation] just for one line!” So we did take out certain locations.
We were mainly thinking, where do people typically go when they’re taking a family road trip, but then where would the Addamses go? Death Valley is the happiest place on earth to them! They went to Sleepy Hollow [a village in New York state that some believe to be haunted], where they camped out. They go to San Antonio to visit the Alamo. So it was a mixture of typical family vacation places like Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon and Addams Family types of destinations.
Addams Family Values, the second installment for the live-action movie series, came out in 1993. When thinking about how to approach the concept of an Addams Family second installment movie, did you look to that film in any way?
We try to stay away from those. Not because we don’t like them—we love them, they’re really great—but we want to make sure these stand on their own. You don’t want people saying, “Yeah, they just animated the live-action movies.”
During production, the studio held The Addams Family Voice Challenge, in which anybody online could submit a recording of their best “spooky voice,” and one winner would be selected to record a voiceover in the actual film. How did that work out?
Our marketing team did that. They came up with the concept and picked the winner, who went into a studio somewhere and recorded some lines. What’s funny is we cut out the scene that the winner was going to be in, so we had to have them back to re-record and put them in another part of the movie. It was just a bit part, a crowd member at a Cousin Itt concert [voiced by Snoop Dogg].
Speaking of Snoop Dogg, I don’t know which two songs I was expecting to play in the trailer, but they definitely weren’t Ridin’ by Chamillionaire and What’s My Name? by Snoop Dogg. How did you approach the music for this film?
We listened to a ton of different Snoop songs for the Jet Ski scene. Not a bad way to get paid! [Laughs.] Rock Mafia wrote songs for the first movie [including My Family by Snoop Dogg featuring Migos and Karol G] and they also wrote songs for this movie. They make the movie’s style unique. It’s all its own, because of them. Snoop wrote another song for this one as well.
As far as the score, we have Mychael and Jeff Danna returning. For both movies, we wanted a kind of gypsy feel to the score, which felt very singular to the Addamses.
What was the hardest thing to animate?
The end of the movie. I don’t want to give it away, but it’s pretty spectacular. We spent a lot of time animating each one of those shots, because there was so much going on. There were other challenges, things that you wouldn’t think would be challenging. The beach, having the sand crunch under their feet. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard, but you need to make footprints. Then when Morticia is dragged through the sand, her dress drags through it, which makes the sand move differently.
Most other animated sequels from the past year had a subtitle—The Boss Baby: Family Business, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, The Croods: A New Age. That really seems to be the trend with animated sequel titles. Why did you choose not to?
We wanted to! We had The Addams Family, a colon, and then there was some play on words. I can’t remember exactly, but it was something related to the phrase “road trip,” but then we had the word “death” in there somehow. But everyone just rolled their eyes whenever we said it. So we all just decided to call it The Addams Family 2 and leave it at that. One of our first teasers has Wednesday breaking the fourth wall and saying “A sequel. How original.” So we leaned into that.
Why should audiences see this on the big screen?
Going to the movies is a communal experience. The movie is more fun, it’s funnier, it’s more exciting when you’re watching it on a big screen, surrounded by people. And when you go to a theater to see it on the big screen, you see things that you don’t notice on a smaller screen. You also have this feeling of an entire audience laughing or screaming or cheering. We human beings crave that. To be able to sit in a movie theater with a hundred or so people and hear an audience around you, it’s very contagious. Perhaps that’s not the word I should use during these times. Strike that! [Laughs.]
But that excitement, that thrill, it uplifts people. It makes them feel that they’re part of something bigger. You don’t pause and go to the kitchen to do the dishes in the middle of it. You don’t say, “Oh shoot, I’ve got this email to write for work.” For two hours, you turn the rest of your life off and you’re taken on a ride.