Recently, Home Sweet Home Alone premiered on Disney+. It’s an example of Disney’s use of a new IP they acquired following their purchase of 20th Century Fox a few years ago. Now, what many may not realize is that this is actually the sixth film in the Home Alone franchise. While it may not be that much better than the last two films, it does change up the formula a little bit. Ultimately it’s an example of trying to use elements from a classic film to recreate magic. Spoiler alert: it fails.
In 1998, filmmaker Gus Van Sant wanted to experiment and discover what makes a classic a classic, so he made a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho using the same exact screenplay as the beloved original film. His theory: if everything but the actors are the same, it should still be a classic, right?
Wrong. I thought a lot about his Psycho while watching Home Sweet Home Alone because it feels like they were trying to take what worked about the original Home Alone, all the right ingredients, and see if it would make it a good movie.
The original Home Alone (and technically this one) centers around a boy left home alone when his parents inexplicably go on vacation without him, and he must defend his house from burglars. The problem is that Home Alone’s improbable plot is impossible to rehash without seeming ridiculous.
They tried rehashing the plot by only changing the setting for Home Alone 2: Lost In New York but the movie came off extremely far-fetched, even if admittedly entertaining. There are only so many times you can tell the story of a child left impossibly home alone who must fend off burglars, yet they’ve done it six times.
Home Alone is the type of movie that should never have been sequelized to begin with, and any attempt to recreate its immense and original success has fallen flat.
The new film does something that’s actually interesting. It changes its perspective from the child’s to the burglars’. While this is a clever change, it’s also the film’s biggest problem. Pam and Jeff (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) are down on their luck and think a young boy named Max stole a valuable doll from them that they can sell to get out of a financial bind. So they attempt to break into Max’s house, and, from there, the usual Home Alone shenanigans ensue.
Unfortunately, Jeff and Pam are very likable and not very villainous, and so we feel bad for them when they struggle to retrieve the doll and fall victim to Max’s booby traps. Honestly, the funniest sequence in the film has nothing to do with Max’s traps, but the pair having to climb a simple wall and failing spectacularly.
While changing the perspective is a fresh idea for this tired franchise, it makes the trap sequences less fun because we really don’t want anything bad to happen to this nice, desperate couple whose pursuit actually seems somewhat justified.
Max is really the villain of the movie and isn’t all that likable. But he’s not despicable. And so if he’s not despicable and the burglars aren’t despicable – what are the stakes? The first film had menace to it with Joe Pesci even saying he was going to bite off little Kevin’s fingers and “boil his cojones in motor oil.” Without any type of real threat, the story is pointless. The film was directed by Dan Mazer, who has had a long history with Sasha Baron Cohen, which suggests that the movie might’ve had a darker edge, but it doesn’t. It’s brightly lit and colorful, unlike the often dark and dangerous original. Perhaps family films can’t be dark and dangerous in 2021.
Even though they changed the film’s perspective, there are still many elements from the other movies incorporated such as the family bizarrely forgetting Max at home, a large chaotic family, and a mother having to return home to get her child because there is no way they can contact him (this plot point was a stretch in 1990 but in 2021? C’mon).
Another element that feels like an attempt to recreate the original’s success is the music. Master composer John Williams’ iconic themes are used but they don’t resonate here like they did when they were first used. For example, when Kevin McCallister and his mom are reunited in the original film, it’s accompanied by Williams’ emotional themes which are essentially birthed from the emotion we see on the screen. This film uses these themes haphazardly, not earning them and, instead, making the images on screen feel hollow.
Home Alone is a classic film that seems pretty pointless to remake (you wouldn’t be able to use that same level of violence used in the original anyway and let’s face it, that was half the fun). The idea behind making this has all to do with making money off of a new IP and nothing to do with having a new good story to tell.
The original Home Alone is on Disney+, and already has throngs of fans who watch it every Christmas. We don’t need this movie to advertise the fact the original is on the streaming site.
For all its faults, the film does contain an amusing connection to the first film. Actor Devin Ratray reprises his role as Kevin’s brother Buzz. It’s a cute cameo but the character is not utilized well. Last year, there was a rumor that Disney paid Macaulay Culkin $6 million to make a cameo in this which turned out to be untrue. If Culkin was indeed asked to appear but turned it down he made a wise decision.
Home Alone was lightning in a bottle and proves that filmmakers can’t create classics, audiences do with their love for them. Despite all the attempts, there is no formula to make a great film – it just happens. Instead of mining all their new IP, Disney should try and make more original films, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll get lucky and create a film that will be adored by generations to come.
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