Critiques of the Home Alone movies, both after the fact and contemporary, tend to focus on the violence with which young Kevin McAllister dispatches cartoon cat burglars Marv and Harry while left alone in his family’s suburban Chicago McMansion. Back in 1992, The L.A. Times clucked its tongue at the prospect of kids re-creating stunts they saw in Home Alone 2—generally agreed to be the most sadistic of the franchise—while The Atlantic went for a more straightforward inventory of injury in 2015, calling the original film “beloved holiday torture porn.”
Home Sweet Home Alone, a new Disney+ “reimagining” of the series, doesn’t throw out that element entirely—without it, this would just be a movie about a kid who plays video games and eats candy for a couple of days. But in actually humanizing the beleaguered villains, it opens up a whole new can of worms for a critic to sift through.
This time, the antagonists aren’t professional thieves, but an ordinary married couple desperate to save their family home. As the film opens, Pam (Ellie Kemper) and Jeff (Rob Delaney) are holding an open house at their modest Winnetka dwelling, which—to their great shame—they’re being forced to sell because they can no longer keep up with the mortgage.
Among the visitors that afternoon are posh finance type Carol (Aisling Bea) and her son, Max (Archie Yates, a.k.a. the sidekick kid from Jojo Rabbit), who pop in just to use the bathroom. While waiting for his mom, Max, a snide little shit in the McAllister mode, gets into a verbal sparring match with Jeff, making fun of him for having a box full of dolls in his closet. One of those dolls goes missing, which is unfortunate because—in a classic only-in-the-movies coincidence—it turns out to be worth more than Jeff and Pam’s house. The two resolve to get it back, retracing their steps until they conclude that it must have been that rude little British boy who stole it. Soon, they manage to trace him back to a palatial subdivision across town, where he’s currently—ahem—home alone after being left behind in the mad pre-flight scramble before a family Christmas trip to Tokyo.
Cue a cascade of ice, fire, Legos, weights, bags of sugar, buttered stairs, a Nerf gun loaded with billiard balls, and a trampoline rigged to collapse under Jeff’s weight, propelling him around Max’s backyard like Wile E. Coyote with a rocket strapped to his back. This sequence, arguably the meat of the picture, only takes up about 15 minutes of Home Sweet Home Alone, one of those 21st-century sequels that cares more about inserting Easter eggs for the original film than it does providing similar entertainment value.
Here, Max’s house comes with a blue “McAllister Security” sign, and the lack of police intervention is explained by a scene where Kevin’s older brother, Buzz (Devin Ratray), now a village cop, says between bites of burrito that his little brother calls in a fake “home alone” prank every year. So once again it’s kid versus adults, with Kemper and Delaney mixing what precious little slapstick comedy Home Sweet Home Alone actually has with tears of despair and Pam wailing, “Who raised this little monster?!”
Who raised him is a woman who has enough cash for a preposterous plan to cart at least a dozen people—half of them children under the age of 12—to one of the world’s most expensive cities to stay in five-star hotel suites (an exterior shot shows the Palace Hotel Tokyo, whose rooms average around $500 a night) in a country that barely celebrates Christmas to begin with. Once Carol realizes she’s left Max at home, she has little of the distressed-mom urgency that made Catherine O’Hara sympathetic. (British manners are a poor fit for this role.) And she doesn’t seem to have imparted much in the way of gratitude to her son: Faced with a table of presents for “children in need” at a church toy drive, Max asks for a shopping cart.
Now, the McAllisters were bourgeois pigs themselves; they went to Paris for Christmas in the original film, which isn’t exactly a down-home celebration. But here, the film’s explicit framing of Pam and Jeff as downwardly mobile—Pam is a schoolteacher, while Jeff is unemployed—turns Max’s cascade of violence towards them into class warfare. All they want is to get back what was stolen from them. And yet they’re the villains, while this entitled child, raining pain on them from the upper level of his much larger home while his family pisses away tens of thousands of dollars in Tokyo, is the hero.
An argument can be made for not parsing the social messaging of films like this one too deeply, as the creative team probably didn’t. But Home Sweet Home Alone does merit such criticism, if only because there’s really not much else going on. You’ve got a parade of well-known faces like Kenan Thompson, Pete Holmes, Chris Parnell, and Timothy Simons in small, thankless roles. (Andy Daly doesn’t even have any lines as Max’s dad.) You’ve got knowing dialogue about how it’s futile to “remake the classics,” of-the-moment references to Alexa-type devices, eye-rolling hipster jokes, and a pat ending where everyone learns a little something about the true meaning of home. And there’s a montage of Max living large on his first day alone in the house—a sequence that, unlike most of the movie, is actually kind of cute.
Maybe nitpicking is warranted, because writers Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell go out of their way to over-explain certain details—a winter storm caused the airline to rebook the family on two separate flights—while remaining seemingly oblivious to much larger issues with the premise and script. Then again, maybe they are just on the side of the 1%, consciously producing propaganda to make children parked in front of Disney+ distrustful of those with more modest means. Home Alone 2 did have a Donald Trump cameo, after all.