Oh, ho ho what fun we have tonight on this, the last Thursday before Christmas itself! In trying to come up with a review for the ultra-classic Home Alone franchise, I knew I couldn’t really do one film and avoid the other (come on, just admit it. Home Alone 2 is more than a worthy sequel. . .), and so I’ve enlisted some help in covering my bases here. Mark from the fantastically-written and always informative Three Rows Back has kindly joined me in taking a look back at these days of innocence; when Macaulay Culkin had a career; when ‘Christmas spirit’ meant getting to run around the house with your pants off and setting booby traps; when being ‘home for the holidays’ took on a completely different meaning altogether. Mark has chosen to remind us of the greatness of the original, while I took on its only mildly-less classic sequel in the second half. Hope you guys enjoy this one, this week’s a lot of fun!
Today’s food for thought: Home Alone; Home Alone 2.
Release: November 16, 1990
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Home Alone, right?
As much a festive tradition as roasting chestnuts on an open fire and receiving socks from granny, Chris Columbus’ monster box office hit had a seismic impact on Hollywood and helped to usher in a gamut of family friendly flicks hoping to ride the wave.
The home invasion movie was hardly a new concept, but writer and producer John Hughes sought to lighten up this normally dark sub-genre with a pair of bungling burglars and a protagonist whose early years and cutesy smile disguise a natural aptitude for home security and a hunger for sadistic violence.
The kid in question is eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), who’s left to fend for himself in his palatial home after being accidentally left behind by his family when they fly to Paris for a Christmas vacation. While Kevin’s guilt-ridden mom (Catherine O’Hara) tries to get back home by any means necessary, the wee lad goes about protecting his castle from a pair of notorious burglars called the Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern).
Although Culkin was a known entity to Hughes, having appeared in his 1989 comedy Uncle Buck opposite John Candy (who gets a cameo here as Gus Polinski — ‘the Polka King of the Midwest’), his casting in Home Alone was nevertheless a considerable gamble due to the demands of having to hold the audience’s attention for long periods with no support. It’s a test for any actor to pull this off, but when that performer is a kid the challenge is immense.
Culkin didn’t become the biggest child star since Shirley Temple for nothing, though. With a cherubic all-American face, cheeky attitude and natural on-screen confidence, Culkin is a perfect fit for the role of Kevin. He might not have the acting chops of many of today’s child actors, but when all he’s got to do is put his hands to his face and pull that over-the-top shocked expression now and again (and again) he doesn’t need to worry about it.
The film does a nice job early on of showing how an eight-year-old would probably react when left home alone. When he isn’t tearing around the house and eating big bowls of ice cream Kevin’s making his own entertainment, like sledging down the stairs.
Kevin must soon come to realise, however, just how important family is, especially at Christmas time. After wishing they would all just go away (his brother Buzz calls him a “flem-wad” and, when asked by Kevin if he can sleep in his room, is told: “I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass”), he’s soon pining for them. He also learns the importance of not judging books by their covers, especially the slightly odd guy next door who actually turns out to be a kind old man.
Life lessons aside, Home Alone is, for all intents and purposes, a cartoon, with Culkin’s mannered performance complementing the Laurel and Hardy shenanigans of Pesci and Stern (it’s hard to believe this came out just a couple of months after Goodfellas, which saw Pesci portray a rather more unhinged bad guy).
The film spends a long time teasing the audience before letting rip with Pesci and Stern’s Wacky Races-esque attempt to catch Kevin (instead of the pigeon) in the final act. Needless to say, it’s the most entertaining part of the film, with a gleeful Kevin parading around as the blundering burglars walk into trap after trap and mutter indiscernible obscenities in the same manner as Dick Dastardly’s dog Mutley.
The violence unleashed is quite nasty in places, in particular when an iron drops on Stern’s head, which in normal circumstances probably would have killed him.
Criticising Home Alone is like taking candy from a baby; it’s easy but you feel bad about doing it. For all its faults – and it has a few – it’s a guilty pleasure you don’t feel too bad about indulging when the festive season comes around.
Recommendation: Home Alone is one of those films that, when viewed under the right circumstances (ideally with the family on a sleepy Sunday afternoon), goes down as easily as apple pie. This isn’t a film made with cinephiles in mind; it’s a movie aimed at families about the importance of the family unit. Besides, if you watch it with a sibling you can always take inspiration from Buzz when it comes to classic put-downs. Flem-wad!
Running Time: 103 mins.
Quoted: “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!”
Release: November 20, 1992
Oh God, not again!
Isn’t this every parent’s worst nightmare, letting their son out of their sight for just two minutes and wham! — he’s on a flight to New York instead of Miami? I guess where insult gets added to the injury is the point at which the McCallister family recalls a similar disappearing act happening a mere two years ago, when Kevin failed to make it even out of the house with the family on their last Christmas vacation.
Still, Hollywood must cash in where they can on original ideas, and this time they take the home invasion premise and sort-of flip it on it’s head — ‘sort of,’ because this isn’t so much about protecting one’s home this time, as it is just having an opportunity to up the ante with the pranks. Admittedly, that’s the sole purpose of this sequel existing. The prospect of seeing the Wet Bandits facing another round of ridiculous traps set by the hands of someone a third their age proved to be too overwhelming a temptation for the execs at 20th Century Fox.
At this point, Kevin has proven himself as a remarkably resourceful little ten year old, and this time around he even had the sense to grab a hold of dad’s wallet, board a plane to a different city, and get himself set up in a nice room at the Plaza Hotel in the Big Apple. Suspending all disbelief for a while, this kid has become a professional at avoiding his family.
While Kevin familiarizes himself with the likes of New York City, even making friends with a local toy store owner named Mr. Duncan and a weird pigeon-keeping lady, trouble is lurking around the corner yet again, as Harry and Marv have somehow tracked down the little snot that got away from them last time. What are the odds, finding the kid in this big of a town?
The contrivance and questionable conveniences of the storytelling which arise from a studio’s go-ahead for making a “guaranteed-to-be-popular” sequel reaches an all-time high here, but we can easily overlook this because we had a lot of fun in Home Alone. Logic should follow that the second should be a good deal of fun too. And it is, though the novelty of the premise does show some signs of wear and tear.
First of all, the general plot outline here is quite predictable. The final act, wherein Kevin’s dim-witted assailants find and attack him in his uncle’s townhouse, feels like the same blueprint as its predecessor, only with a few slightly different instructions to follow through on. Watch Home Alone 2 to see Marv get lit up by an open electrical circuit Kevin rigged to a random sink (his goofy-looking skeleton still haunts me to this day, in a very crappy 1990s-CGI kind of way. . .), or witness Harry barbecue himself alive after dipping his flaming head into a toilet filled with gasoline. Ouch.
And see, that’s the other thing about the follow-up. Do the stakes become too high in the writing? When do things go from funny to “alright, this little ten-year-old is actually torturing adults?” Are his actions righteous? Supposedly they are, because his attackers just won’t quit. However, one can’t help feeling that one of the things that are Lost in New York is the spirit of Christmas. What happened to this being the season of mercy?
As far as comedy sequels go, though, one can do a lot worse than Home Alone 2. It still features America’s favorite ten-year-old (at the time) Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister doing what he does best. Pesci and Stern convert their bodies into one slapstick joke after another, a sacrifice that doesn’t go under-appreciated even after twenty-plus years.
As well, the general spirit that made its predecessor a smash hit is more or less present. Kevin learns that he does indeed need family to get by through the holidays, as much as they drive him up the wall and vice versa. At the end of the day, all’s well that ends. . .well? Yes. Because after all of these ordeals, the McCallisters finally are able to put aside their differences. So there is resolution this Christmas season. Extremely contrived resolution, but again. . .’tis the season to forgive and forget.
Speaking of, let’s forget about the beyond-depressing fact that there followed another three sequels after this film, none of which featured any of the original cast. Those who gave the green light to those ideas hopefully received nothing but lumps of coal in their stockings those years. For shame.
Recommendation: It lacks a little of the charm and originality of the first, but still it’s undeniably good old fashioned family entertainment, especially if you’re wanting to stow away all the classics that made Culkin such a prominent success in the early 90’s. Movies like these, though, do beg the question — whatever becomes of former child stars? (I guess we should turn to Dicky Roberts to answer that.)
Running Time: 120 mins.
Quoted: “You can mess with a lot of things, but you can’t mess with kids on Christmas.”
Once again I’d like to thank Mr. Mark Fletcher for participating in this week’s throwback, it was a lot of fun getting to read his thoughts on one of my personal favorite Christmas movies of all time. Be sure you all check out his site and show some love over there as well. Since this is the last TBT post before the holiday, make sure you all have a lovely Christmas/holiday season and I’ll see you next week, the 26th, for another edition of TBT.
All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.
Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com