Disney’s promised resurrected of the Home Alone franchise arrives – and here’s our review of new Disney+ movie Home Sweet Home Alone.
In many households across the world, Home Alone is a firmly entrenched festive tradition – as much a part of Christmas as turkey, presents and squabbling over whether your cousin actually bought Park Lane or just stole the card from the Monopoly box. With that in mind, it’s little surprise that Disney swiftly granted a green light to a new movie in the franchise when it was acquired by the Mouse House as part of the purchase of 20th Century Fox.
Mercifully, Home Sweet Home Alone largely eschews any attempt to connect itself ham-fistedly to the beloved original movie and its direct sequels, beyond the reappearance of one cast member in a handful of largely inconsequential scenes.
The central tyke who finds himself left behind this time is not a McCallister, but an unrelated Chicago kid named Max Mercer, played by Jojo Rabbit breakout Archie Yates. A contrived series of events leads his mother (Aisling Bea) and family to forget him ahead of a Christmas trip to Tokyo, with an even more contrived series of events causing married couple Pam and Jeff (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) to believe that Max has stolen a potentially valuable heirloom from their home. Promptly, they resolve to break in and steal it back, meeting DIY resistance from Max.
If that sounds like a straight reworking of the first movie, then that’s only half true. Certainly, it follows a similar narrative formula – 50% kiddie antics and 50% exceptionally violent slapstick – but it’s given an entirely different motivation by the characterisation of Pam and Jeff. Unlike the first film’s memorable Wet Bandits, these are not conniving crooks. Instead, they’re merely desperate people looking to reclaim their belongings, albeit by breaking into a home and committing a crime of their own.
There’s an enjoyable contrast between Delaney and Kemper’s performances. He’s deeply nervous about the prospect of breaking and entering, whereas Kemper dials up her intensity so much that it crosses through the spectrum of being terribly over-cranked and into the adjacent spectrum of brilliance. In a film so thoroughly defined by the thuds and squeals of people falling over, there’s a simple delight in watching Kemper untangle herself very slowly from a string of fairy lights. This seems a strange thing to say about pantomime slapstick, but sometimes less is more.
The central issue, though, is that the crucial element of pantomime polarity isn’t there. This movie isn’t a battle between a plucky, angelic youngster and a pair of violent criminals who, within the story’s moral compass, deserve much of the punishment meted out to them. It’s difficult to appreciate the spectacle of Rob Delaney being shot in the head with a pool ball or Ellie Kemper stumbling painfully through a minefield of LEGO once you know that they’re just trying to steal back the heirloom that could save their family from financial peril. They aren’t villains getting their comeuppance, just ordinary people getting the bejeezus beaten out of them by a child with the trap-based ingenuity of the Jigsaw Killer.
Yates makes a decent fist of the lead role, though the job of stepping into Macaulay Culkin’s tiny shoes is inevitably an utterly thankless one. He brings a charming innocence to the poisoned chalice of the part and just about gets by on pure earnestness, even as the script tosses him a selection of bum lines. It’s fun to watch him explore the possibilities of a Christmas without responsible adults, plunging into a pile of sweets while wearing a suit in a neat visual nod to Al Pacino in Scarface. But ultimately, his character is lost and ill-defined amid the enhanced focus on the backstory of the home invaders and, as a result, the emotional catharsis of the eventual family reunion doesn’t have the same punch as it did in the original movie.
That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had. It would take a harder heart than mine not to find it funny when people fall over or slip on ice, especially when those pratfalls are delivered with the gusto provided by Delaney and Kemper, who prove to be excellent on-screen punching bags. Director Dan Mazer – a frequent Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator – brings a fun, kinetic energy to these sequences, though they occasionally suffer from some slightly ropey digital effects.
Ultimately, Home Sweet Home Alone may well work for the audience it’s intended to impress. Kids who haven’t seen the 90s classic – or would prefer a film which takes place in a more modern era – will likely enjoy the silliness in the same way we all enjoyed Culkin’s open-mouthed scream and Joe Pesci’s pratfalls 30 years ago. And of course, as is the case with all remakes, nothing that happens here can affect or harm the original film in any way. In fact, it’s available just a few clicks away on the same streaming platform. Crowing about “ruined childhoods” seems pointless given the fact this is the sixth film in a franchise in which only the first really has any fans and which once pitted its hero against North Korean terrorists. If there is a shark to jump, it was emphatically vaulted before the new film’s leading man was even born.
Home Sweet Home Alone isn’t the best remake ever produced, but it’s also far from the worst. It seems unlikely to become anybody’s favourite part of the festive experience, nor will anyone resent it being on the plate. It’s sort of the cinema equivalent of cauliflower. Put that on the poster.
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