After five films, three of which were attempts to reboot the wildly popular Christmas franchise, Disney’s 20th Century Studios takes another swing at a new Home Alone tale with the Disney+ exclusive Home Sweet Home Alone.
Home Sweet Home Alone is a Fun, Surprisingly Thoughtful Take on a Holiday Classic
Shortly before Christmas, Pam (Ellie Kemper) and Jeff McKenzie (Rob Delaney) are faced with the prospect of selling their home, which they cannot afford to keep now that Jeff has been unemployed for some time. At the open house, they meet Max Mercer (Archie Yates) and his mother Carol (Aisling Bea), who have stopped in just so Max can use the bathroom.
Max bumps into Jeff, who is moving some things out of a hall closet, and comments on the box of creepy porcelain dolls Jeff unearths, which he says belonged to his mother. When Carol joins them, she informs Jeff that the dolls are actually antiques, and can fetch quite a bit of money from interested collectors.
Back at the Mercer household, it is pandemonium in the way we’ve come to expect from a Home Alone movie: screaming cousins, overburdened parents, and early morning travel arrangements looming on the horizon. Needing a moment of peace and quiet, Max escapes to the garage to sit in the car and watch cartoons, eventually falling asleep in there.
The McKenzies, meanwhile, are dealing with holiday stress of their own, as Jeff’s more affluent – and obnoxious – brother Hunter (Timothy Simons) has come to stay for the holidays, bringing his equally over-the-top wife Mei (Ally Maki). Faced with having to give their children a leaner Christmas than they would have liked, Jeff decides to check the going rate for the porcelain dolls and finds that one of them has a design flaw, making it a highly sought-after collector’s item. The only problem is, the doll is missing.
Jeff assumes the culprit is Max, and heads to the Mercer home the next morning to try and clear things up and ask for the doll back. He arrives just in time to find half the family on their way to the airport, with the other half already long gone. Overhearing the alarm code, and noticing where the family keeps the emergency key, he decides to return later with Pam to fetch the doll. The only problem is, Max is still home, and through a misunderstanding assumes Jeff and Pam are there to kidnap and sell him, rather than the heirloom.
When rebooting a story as beloved and nostalgic as Home Alone the temptation can often be to recreate as many beloved moments from the most popular installment as possible. The homemade booby traps – a staple of the series – still feature heavily in Home Sweet Home Alone. Any easy solutions to Max’s problems that the audience might expect due to things like the internet, cell phones, and Smart Home assistants are all given clever workarounds, meaning Max must rely on his creativity just as much as Kevin did 31 years ago.
Meanwhile, other nods to the first film remain thankfully very light. The Mercer home, we see, is protected by a “McCallister Home Security” system, a nod back to Macauley Caulkin’s Kevin McCallister. His older brother Buzz (Devin Ratray) also makes a cameo appearance in the movie, as the police officer first summoned to the Mercer house to investigate a potential break-and-enter. The most obvious attempt to tug at the nostalgic heartstrings comes when Pam is reminiscing about Christmases spent in their home, her flashbacks scored by the John Williams-composed “Somewhere In My Memory”.
This brings me to the most interesting part of Home Sweet Home Alone, and that is the sheer amount of time spent with the McKenzies. The movie, arguably, is far more about them trying to reclaim a lost heirloom and save their home than it is about a child being left in a house by himself for a couple of days, which feels like the wisest decision the filmmakers could have made. Any attempt to remake Home Alone beat for beat would have fallen fantastically flat. Adding a new dimension to the story was smart, even if it does take the focus off the kid at the center of the story.
Max himself was, unfortunately, the weakest part of the movie overall. Not to say that Archie Yates doesn’t do the absolute most with what he’s given. His performance is utterly charming, and he has great comedic timing. The trouble is with the writing: there isn’t much motivation for anything Max does. It’s stated that he’s annoyed all his cousins are staying at their house the night before their trip. But unlike the first movie, he isn’t needlessly picked on, he isn’t lacking familial attention, and it doesn’t even seem like he didn’t want to go on the trip to Tokyo. An offhand remark about wishing he was the only person in the house more seems like a side effect of too much noise than a genuine wish to be completely home alone.
It manages to retain the core message of the original story, which is that home is made by the people in your life, and not by any physical location. A little cliché perhaps, especially when explicitly stated, but this is the one time of year I find myself to be very forgiving of that kind of overt sentiment. Home Sweet Home Alone probably wasn’t made with nostalgic 30-somethings in mind, nor should it have been. By trying to tell a newish story, with a familiar premise, 20th Century Studios has delivered a sweet, entertaining romp for families to pop onto Disney+ this holiday season.