It seems particularly cruel that the first thing we see in Home Sweet Home Alone is the 20th Century Fox fanfare—and yes, it is still the Fox fanfare when the floodlights come on and the brass section plays, no matter the text on the screen. That fallen movie studio was of course no collection of saints when it came to milking popular IPs. They even made that horrible Home Alone 3 back in ’97 you forgot existed. But Home Sweet Home Alone? The belated and opportunistic “legacy sequel” which attempts to manipulate your childhood nostalgia into crass dollar signs? That’s a modern Disney maneuver through and through.
The unique bit of ugliness about Home Sweet Home Alone’s cynicism, however, is that it’s not even nostalgia done particularly well. Disney rolls out the red carpet when they’re mining their own vaults for animated classics to remake, or when capitalizing on a $4 billion investment in Lucasfilm. But Home Sweet Home Alone plays like an afterthought that was penciled onto a spreadsheet somewhere—a project which will begin with the Fox fanfare like it’s the grave robber who chuckles about the tomb he’s raiding, but then has the pure ineptitude or quiet embarrassment to not also shoehorn in John Williams’ majestic Home Alone score at the top of the movie. No, that bit of exploitation comes later. It doesn’t help anymore then.
Not that this Disney+ product is looking for much aid. It happily goes through the motions of its thankless assignment with all the cheerfulness of a Hallmark Christmas movie. Perhaps intended for some of the same audience, this might explain the choice to make Home Sweet Home Alone as much about the bumbling burglars of the piece as the child who’s been left behind. Incidentally, the kid in question is named Max, and he’s played by the young and previously charming Archie Yates. This is the same kid whose precocious deadpan stole entire scenes in Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, although it’s of little use in a role as basic as Max.
He’s simply the sardonic child archetype with little character beyond his quips at his mom’s expense. It’s thus a wonder that mother Carol (Aisling Bea) decided to take Max with her to an open house held by the film’s true stars, Pam (Ellie Kemper) and Jeff (Rob Delaney). These other young parents are reluctant about selling their home after the holidays, but due to tight finances they’re looking for an offer. That is until Jeff realizes one of his grandmother’s old dolls is worth $200k and he comes to believe that weird little smartass he just met, Max, took it. And wouldn’t you know it, Max is home alone when his extended family flies to Tokyo for Christmas, accidentally leaving Max behind at the house.
Max immediately has a ball while Jeff and Pam enter into a moral conundrum. Should they break into the supposedly empty house and steal the doll back? You can guess what happens next because you saw it the first time. Twice.
So yes, Home Sweet Home Alone is a long-winded build toward the same setup as the original 1990 movie from writer John Hughes and director Chris Columbus. And in that way, it’s an interesting experiment to show just how wretched the first Home Alone’s premise could be if it were made by folks who didn’t care about what they were making. Many of the same beats are here, including the hapless thieves being tortured by a Machiavellian demon spawn; there’s also a montage of the lad enjoying having the house to himself. And yet, it plays all so perfunctory and half-hearted. There’s even a scene of Max reenacting Scarface, a movie too violent for this kid to have seen and too old for much of Disney+’s target audience to be aware existed. But parents will chuckle when he inhales M&Ms and whipped cream instead of cocaine, right? Right?!
It’s probably for this reason Home Sweet Home Alone consistently looked and and felt like a sitcom to me, including with the flat, high-key lighting and tired “punchlines” from Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell’s unfunny script—there’s even a fart gag while “O Holy Night” plays. But perhaps that’s unfair. There are plenty of sitcoms that can actually make you chuckle, including The Office and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, both of which Kemper has starred in. Along with her work in Bridesmaids, Kemper has a gift for broad and slightly off-kilter characters, and she brings a similar affability here which pairs nicely with Delaney. One could easily imagine these two starring in a good if perhaps blandly familiar ABC family show.
Ergo, it must be something worse than a generic sitcom: it’s content. At its most base and soulless. The kind which knows it will win every time bored families click “play” on their Disney+ homepage, so when’s lunch? This leads to lazy attempts to mimic the character beats from 1990, but Yates lacks either the range or direction to actually convey to the audience he really “misses my family” when he just blankly says so to a stranger, and Williams’ “Somewhere in My Memory” plays over the soundtrack.
You won’t buy it, although this does give a curious if unintentional menace to the actual “hijinks” scenes, like where Max lights the much more sympathetic Pam on fire as she tries to reason with him. As the origin story of a serial killer, it’s kind of chilling, but as a family movie, it’s hackneyed, unfunny, and off-putting. And it will still be watched millions of times this month because Devin Ratray (Buzz in the original movies) makes a cameo and mentions Kevin, something that will surely be placed on a loading screen.
Buzz might be back, but believe Home Sweet Home Alone’s poster: “Holiday classics were meant to be broken.” Well, this one is good and smashed now.
Home Sweet Home Alone premieres on Disney+ on Nov. 12.