state of the arts

What do Disney possibly hope to achieve with Home Sweet Home Alone?

Anyone could have told you that Disney’s straight-to-streaming remake of the 1990 Christmas classic was never going to match the original. The problem, writes Louis Chilton, is that there wasn’t even much incentive to try

Saturday 13 November 2021 09:10 GMT
<p>Archie Yates fills a Kevin McCallister-shaped hole as Max in ‘Home Sweet Home Alone’</p>

Archie Yates fills a Kevin McCallister-shaped hole as Max in ‘Home Sweet Home Alone’

Nostalgia, as Mad Men’s Don Draper once said, is delicate – but potent. Perhaps the biggest problem with contemporary Hollywood cinema is that it’s taken the second part of this notion entirely to heart, while ignoring the first part altogether. Rather than being flecked onto the dish like a precious spice, nostalgia is heaped on in great dusty globs. Studios bark reminiscences at us like some kind of primordial Peter Kay routine: Remember Ghostbusters? Remember Star Wars? Remember Jurassic Park? It’s enough to stick in your throat.

It is the rabid pursuit of nostalgia that led to where we are now: the release of Home Sweet Home Alone, a fifth sequel-cum-remake of the festive classic Home Alone, on Disney Plus. The film stars Archie Yates as a Kevin McCallister-esque child who fends off two burglars (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) while left alone in an empty house one Christmas. Reaction to the film has been predictably humbuggish: in a one-star review for The Independent, Clarisse Loughrey described it as “joyless”, “mean”, and “confusing”, writing: “[The film] doesn’t even know what it is, let alone what it should be doing.” From its egregious product placement, to its drab visuals, to its sometimes crass and cringe-inducing jokes, Sweet Home is a veritable yule log in the Christmas punch-bowl.

To many, this came as no surprise. From the initial announcement to the first trailer release, to its eventual debut on Disney Plus, Sweet Home was met with resistance and scorn every step of the way. When the first footage dropped on YouTube, back in October, it was met with 23,000 upvotes; nearly four times as many people (89,000) gave it the “thumbs down”. If this was ancient Rome, they’d be sending in the lions. But even if this hadn’t been the case – if the movie had been charming, inventive, and generally un-repugnant – there’d still be no real reason for it to exist. Chris Columbus, the director of the first two Home Alone films, has been among those to condemn the remake. “It’s a waste of time as far as I’m concerned,” he told Insider. “What’s the point? I’m a firm believer that you don’t remake films that have had the longevity of Home Alone. You’re not going to create lightning in a bottle again. So why do it?”

Lightning in a bottle is right. Home Alone’s simple premise, broad slapstick humour and John Hughes schmaltz bely an impeccable sense of craft. Macaulay Culkin as Kevin remains one of the all-time definitive child-acting performances, a perfect balance of charm, innocence and mischief. It’s surely hubris on the part of Sweet Home’s creators to even try and recast such a role, and an unreasonable weight to place on the shoulders of 12-year-old Yates.

There’s no point getting precious about the “legacy” of the original film, about Sweet Home tarnishing the reputation or specialness of the original – a common complaint thrown at films from Solo: A Star Wars Story to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Home Alone, in particular, was never some sacrosanct text. This was a film that had already birthed four shoddy sequels, of which the only enduring cultural impact was an eight-second cameo from Donald Trump in Home Alone 2. If Home Alone sold out, it sold out decades ago.

The kind of lazy overreliance on pre-existing IP has, traditionally, been a purely monetary mindset. Of the 20 highest-grossing films of all time, 17 were sequels or remakes; in-built knowledge of a story and characters helps insulate even widely panned films from bombing at the box office. Studios are increasingly unwilling to take a gamble on a wholly original premise; when you’re staking hundreds of millions of dollars on a project, it’s understandable that you’d want a safe bet. But direct-to-streaming releases don’t make losses, or profit. The metric of a streaming film’s success is, at least to outsiders, abstract and theoretical – it’s “buzz”. This buzz leads to viewers, which gradually leads to a hypothetical increase in subscribers, and a hypothetical rise in company share prices. Is Home Sweet Home Alone really going to convince anyone to subscribe to Disney Plus?

Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney’s game performances aren’t enough to lift ‘Home Sweet Home Alone’ from its stupor

Disney is by no means the only offender when it comes to rehashing old ideas for the bloody sake of it, but it is one of the worst. Its spate of live-action remakes of past hits (The Lion King, Aladdin and Mulan among a dispiriting number of others) have all failed to recapture the magic of the originals. The company’s acquisition of Fox in 2019 gave it access to an even more extensive stockpile of IP (including Home Alone) that can be replicated and re-packaged.

The very impulse to try and replicate a film’s success attests to a profound misunderstanding of what art means, or should be striving to achieve. There’s no way that Sweet Home matches the unique appeal of the original – we can assume that studio executives know this full well. So what is the best-case scenario here? If you shoot for greatness and fall short, you can still be left with something pretty damn good. If you aim simply for adequacy, then missing the target leaves you with Home Sweet Home Alone.

‘Home Sweet Home Alone’ is streaming now on Disney Plus

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