Bonus Holiday Review: Home Alone

home aloneNow that I’m finished with Scrooge month I thought I might do a few bonus holiday reviews and tonight I watched Home Alone and boy does it hold up well.  Aside from technology changes I think it could be released today.  It’s still funny, sweet, sincere and a great family film.

I have a bit of a personal history with this movie.  When we were 10 my grandparents would take us on a trip and my trip was to go to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm and see my cousin in a choral competition with my grandparents.  It was pretty great.  Before we went down to Southern California we had a night and decided to go see Home Alone at the theater.  My parents weren’t big TV/Movie people so my movie indoctrination was fairly sparse- the occasional Disney and my recent obsession with Little Mermaid  which was released the year before Home Alone.  I certainly hadn’t seen many comedies at that point.

Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone.  I flew alone which was kind of brave!
Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone. I flew alone which was kind of brave!

So to the theater we went and I laughed my head off. It is the first movie I remember connecting with and laughing hard at.

The truth is I was a very independent kid so Home Alone was kind of my fantasy.  The idea of a kid not only getting by without his parents but defending the house and being smarter than everyone else is so appealing to kids (at least to my kind of kidlike mind). Pretty much if you want to know about me as a child watch Little Mermaid and Home Alone.  That’s the kind of independent spirit I was.  I hated to be told what to do and wanted to be taken seriously in conversation and life. My parents were wise to give me a pretty long leash.

What makes it funny is very good writing combined with the type of humor usually reserved for animation.  Road Runner or Tom and Jerry would have anvils dropped on their heads in cartoons but here is it is real people and all done by a charming little kid.

spiderI like that the movie stays grounded.  All of the stunts Kevin pulls off feel like the kind of thing a kid could do even if in reality they are not.  It’s not like he’s blowing stuff up or using chemicals a kid wouldn’t know about.  He puts ice on the staircase, puts toys and glass ornaments on the ground, makes havoc with a air rifle.   I’m sure you could tear apart things like the zipline as not being realistic but for the most part it feels plausible.  If anything it feels more grounded in reality than Columbus’ Goonies which is another child-fantasy film with heart and humor (a favorite of mine too).

home-alone-wet-banditsHe also doesn’t totally get away with it.  He comes pretty close to being hurt by the Bandits which creates a kind of nervous tension that makes the viewer laugh.

One of my favorite things about the movie is they make Kevin a capable kid.  Some of the best scenes are him going to the grocery store, doing laundry, sitting at church, meeting with Santa, and ordering pizza.  We sometimes see kids as so helpless but I bet a lot of kids in Kevin’s position would do just fine at all those tasks. They aren’t as stupid as we like to think.

home alone groceryThere is also real heart to the movie which especially for a holiday film endears the picture to all of us.  So many comedies today feel crass and then try to throw in sentiment at the end (I’m talking to you Adam Sandler).  But this maintains that kind of heart all the way through.  Even the fight between Kevin and his Mom at the beginning feels authentic to the way a family really talks and deals with one another. Again, it feels like a real family and that gives the whole crazy situation a grounding for the humor.

mom home alone 2I love the scenes with Kevin and the scary neighbor.  It’s sweet and sincere and reminds you of the fears and earnestness of children.  It could have been overly-sentimental but it is played perfectly and you have to give a lot of credit to Macaulay Culkin and Roberts Blossom who plays the old man.

home alone churchCatherine O’hara is wonderful as the Mother.  When she is pleading for help to get back to her son you wish you could help her. You not only feel her panic but her shame and guilt.  It’s very good.

home alone momI also like that Kevin does not immediately forgive his Mother.  He pauses for a second and looks at her.  You think maybe he will stomp off and then he smiles.  It is a great moment.

mom home aloneJohn Candy has a lovely cameo as a Polka band member who agrees to give Kate a ride to Chicago.  He’s joyful and sweet and wants to help a person in need, and the polka music makes it funny (of all the music I think polka is the funniest for some reason).

john candy home aloneJohn Heard feels authentic and real as Kevin’s father and the rest of the family is kind of generic Hollywood kids but it works.  My family reunions are full of chaos and I didn’t get along with my brother so those family scenes ring true for me.

1323845870Eat-Junk-and-Watch-RubbishThere are a lot of little details I like.  Such as Kevin getting his own tree and decorating it or the fact he lights candles over his mac and cheese.  It makes this little kid feel like a real person instead of a caricature.

mac-and-cheseHome Alone could have gone off the rails in so many ways but it straddles that line of slapstick, sentimentality, and a good story just about perfectly.

I give a lot of credit to John Hughes’ writing and Chris Columbus’ directing.  They both had (or have in case of Columbus) careers where they respected young people and sought to tell their stories well.

Whether it is Chris Columbus writing Goonies, directing Harry Potter movies or The Gremlins, or John Hughes with Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller they both managed to always portray children and teens as real people with their own thoughts, desires and struggles.  We take them seriously because the creators took them seriously.

In the end with Home Alone I think even if you hated all the slapstick violence you could still enjoy the movie. There is enough character development and warmth to enjoy the movie on that level alone. How many comedies can say that?

And let’s not forget John Williams’ wonderful score. He combines traditional carols, band and pop music with his own original pieces in one of the best holiday soundtracks ever.  He’s the master!

I hadn’t seen Home Alone for a couple of years and watched it last year and was really charmed by it.  So if it has been a while for you give it a watch.  Your kids will love it and you will too!

27 thoughts on “Bonus Holiday Review: Home Alone

  1. I don’t like Slapstick – usually. I love Home Alone. Less for the scenes in which Kevin lays all the traps (which are sometimes a little bit too brutal for my taste), but everything else in this movie. Starting with the money obsessed in-laws (yeah, I have some of those, too, and I am so glad that I don’t have to spend any holidays with them), over Kevin’s development to a self-sufficient child as soon as his family is no longer around and doesn’t trust him with any responsibilities, to the nice subplot with the neighbour. For a Christmas movie without family it does a really good job to show what the really important part of Christmas is, family. I even like the sequel, even though I know fully well that it is just the same story told a second time. I don’t mind, I like both versions for more or less the same reasons.

    And You are right about Columbus. He has a good sense for portraying children characters.

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    1. I agree! The sequel is great and Tim Curry adds so much sauce to it that I didn’t mind the repetition either.

      I also love the independence of Kevin and how capable and smart he is. He’s just so endearing. That’s the word I would use for most of the characters- endearing.

      As you say we all have those family members and we all have the chaos but we also miss it when it is gone. It shows that very well. Just got great heart. Glad you enjoy it too.🙂

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      1. Oh, believe me, I don’t miss those family members at all. I already know that after Christmas a lot of people will tell me how terrible the celebration was because of their relatives. I only celebrate with those I really like, and we have a lot of fun every year. No chaos. No arguments (at least not since we decided to decorate the tree before and not on Christmas eve). Just a good time with the family.

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      2. Cool. I’ve had my share of chaos with my siblings but still love em. This year I’m alone at Christmas so perhaps feeling a bit sentimental. (My family is coming 29th). Lots of good memories

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      3. I have siblings that are 10, 16 and 18 years younger than me and my Mom had to go on full bedrest for all her pregnancies so we had some intense times. One year my sister and I got home from college and my Dad was super sick, the baby was screaming, my Mom was still recovering and my Dad looked at us and said ‘welcome to Hell’. That’s the kind of chaos I’m talking about. Just the type of stress and family struggles that can accompany the holidays. Plus, trying to keep strong personalities (we are all loud and opinionated) happy. But in the end that Christmas had a lot of touching moments of sacrifice and love so I look back on it with fondness. That combination of love, frustration and chaos I think is captured very well in the Home Alone family.

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      1. I don’t think I can properly describe how much I hate this movie and the entire film series. I always refrain from the idea than any work can be objectively bad but this series is the closest I would get to considering that. I always think “Home Alone” whenever something objectively bad comes to mind.

        I can find no objective reasons for liking this or the sequels. It is violent, worthless garbage that contains no redeeming value to be found. It is designed for immature 9-year-olds who enjoy other people’s suffering. I don’t think I can emphasize how sensitive children are growing up and how easy it is for television and movies to send a bad impression and teach them harmful messages. I remember looking for my sister at a friend’s house and having an annoying snot-nosed brat of a kid drawl “Wonderin’ where your sister’s at?” then toss a snowball in my face and stand there grinning at me while I could do nothing about it due to his age. And of course when I tried to throw one back in his face later on he was quick to run away because he was too selfish and arrogant to see himself as anything but the highest life form above all else, and the tables are not allowed to be turned on the wholescome charming little scamps like Kevin, don’t you know? Weep sob Culkin is God they are so pwecious.

        Please do not tell me he was just a little kid. Please do not tell me he would grow out of it. Of course he probably would, but this film and entertainment like it leave children in arrested development. I remember my sisters bullying me growing up. This happens because children are never taught better and the subliminal message children get from movies like this is that it is good to be this way.

        I agree with Siskel and Ebert completely in their thoughts on the series (except Ebert’s inexplicable review of Home Alone 3). Contrary to what you said the traps are not plausible, they are obviously set up by a Hollywood stunt crew, I actually like what you say about the slapstick violence comparing it to Looney Tunes because it does sum it up Roger Ebert wrote “I know, I know – the violence is all a joke. Some of the gags are lifted directly from old color cartoons, and in spirit what we’re looking at here are Road Runner adventures, with the crooks playing the role of Wile E. Coyote. As the two hapless mopes fall down ladders and get slammed by bricks and 500-pound bags of cement, and covered with glue and paint and birdseed, you can hear the cackling of the old Looney Tunes heroes in the background. And just like in the cartoons, the crooks are never really hurt; they bounce back, dust themselves off, bend their bones back into shape and are ready for the next adventure. When little Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) taunts them (“Hey! Up here!”), he sounds like Bugs Bunny, and when they chase him (always unwisely), they’re in the tradition of Elmer Fudd. The problem is, cartoon violence is only funny in cartoons. Most of the live-action attempts to duplicate animation have failed, because when flesh-and-blood figures hit the pavement, we can almost hear the bones crunch, and it isn’t funny.”

        Doug Walker has been overly hard on Matilda saying he hates that it is for kids, it sends bad messages and a mean hateful movie should never be sent to kids. I love the book and the movie of Matilda is a good adaptation as basically a live-action cartoon pitched only at children and everyone else must adopt a childlike mindset. Matilda was too intelligent to be taken seriously so unlike this movie a fantasy was created and no child would have her powers so they couldn’t do what she did. Also at the end Matilda does use her pranks functionally to get the Trunchbull to stop ruining children’s lives when there was no way to prevent her otherwise. Kevin can set up all these traps, he can lock them in a cage and leave them to the police, it’s that simple. I know that they are criminals, but it is just honest-to-God sadism and no one deserves this kind of treatment. After a certain point it is just human beings being hurt for fun. And furthermore for Christian families it has nothing to do with Christian moral themes which say “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “Love your enemies”.

        For me this is what Hunchback of Notre Dame was for you. Hunchback of Notre Dame was sincere drama pitched at kids saying they were intelligent enough to handle it, and they could see a realistic villain doing something really bad. I love Django Unchained but that movie was for adults and it was not a Christmas movie. It was also based off of violent Spaghetti Western pulp not a commercialized Hollywood desire to get money from kids by providing them with the juvenile fantasy they know they want to see. Because that’s all this really is. It shows all the evils of Hollywood in that they know exactly what children want to see and they wilkl provide it with no thought for whede so much money have it. And unfortunately it made so much money because parents took their children to see it, and I don’t think any responsible parent shoul allow their children to see this.

        I love the Simpsons line “Haven’t you seen Home Alone? If some burglars come, it’ll be a very humorous and entertaining situation.” But it wouldn’t be and you are right that Kevin does not really get away with it. He is completely at the burglars’ mercy until an adult has to save him. And any child in real life would need to be so lucky if they tried this.

        The best scenes are with Kevin and the old man, but they still can’t make up for the main focus. This movie had a lot of potential as Siskel and Ebert said to be the kind of film you can relate to and send a good message, but what I really hate about the movie is that I hate it. No Christmas movie should encourage people to hate, and this one does. And that is why I hate it. Hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate.

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      2. Wow. Ok. Fair enough. I respect your opinion. I dont know if I can really defend it more than I did in the review itself. I’d just be repeating what I already said. I’m someone who is very sensitive to bullying as I had very traumatic experiences with it so I see your point. I liked that he is able to stand up to the bad guys and I guess I have a fondness because it’s the first comedy to really make me laugh as a little girl.
        I was a very independent kid so the idea of being home alone and defending the house was very appealing for me.
        I think there is good heart to it and a nice message about even independent spirits needing their family .
        But the movie I hate most of all is Drop Dead Gorgeous. It made me cry and I left the theater on a date no less. It was comedy that was mean and hateful and I hated like you hated this. Many people love it and that’s awesome. I think it’s a similar situation here, a similar reaction. What strikes one person as funny and over-the-top seems cold and unfeeling to another.

        As always thanks for sharing and reading.

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      3. I also should add that I like Siskel’s observation that the film is obviously just wish fulfillment, the illusion that kids have this amount of power, but it is extreme overkill.

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      4. Well clearly but that’s not a bad thing in my eye. Wish fulfillment is why we go to the movies for the most part.

        As I said it’s a fantasy like The Goonies is a fantasy for kids. I think with both movies Chris Columbus executes a movie with heart and humor that takes it’s child characters seriously like they can actually do things on their own. Maybe too much so but to me it wasnt so over-the-top and it made me laugh as a kid and adult.

        I like the way Kevin gets groceries, does laundry, those scenes are so fun because I think most kids could do just fine and we assume they are stupid. The booby traps are unrealistic but I thought grounded in a kind of reality that made it feel plausible no jet packs or chemicals Kevin would have no access too.

        But it is definitely slapstick. To me it had a feeling of an old Three Stooges routine where they step on boards get banged up and have a comical reaction. To me there was enough heart that even if you didnt care for the slapstick you could still like it but obviously not the case with you and Gene and Roger (I love them but I dont always agree with everything).

        It’s certainly a valid response and I totally get it. I guess I didnt take it as seriously and it made me laugh then and now but humor is a subjective thing so what can you do. Thanks for sharing an alternative point of view

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      5. I genuinely feel guilty for posting that comment. It was late at night and I was angry. We’ve already disagreed about The Rescuers and Hunchback of Notre Dame, it comes off as though we never have the same opinion but that isn’t true. There are a lot of places we agree and I’m going to refrain from commenting except when I can agree for a while because this was obviously an important movie for you, my post could be construed as insulting you, and I never meant to do that. I never resent the fans, only a work. That is my rule.

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      6. No! Don’t feel bad . I was surprised I admit but that’s only because I had never considered that perspective.

        I enjoy home Alone but it is not one of those personal films that mean big to me. There are a few movies I feel a personal connection too- Up, Little Mermaid, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Perks of Being a Wallflower are top 4.I talk a little bit about it in this piece called The Best Movie I’ve Ever Seen.

        https://54disneyreviews.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/the-best-movie-ive-ever-seen/

        I would love to hear your thoughts on the films we agree on too ,but I would hate for you to stop sharing your other feelings. I have extremely thick skin and grew up in a house where we had very strong feelings on everything and shared them quite forcefully so no worries.

        There does become a point where we are repeating the same arguments over again like with Hunchback and you do have to agree to disagree but its fine.

        All of my commenters have very strong feelings that disagree strongly with mine. Swanpride doesn’t like Frozen. Animation Commendation hates Fantasia. It’s all good. We must never forget it’s just art and art inspires all kinds of emotions. How boring would life be if we all liked the same things so rant on my friend.

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      7. Home Alone was a movie that really made me laugh but I can see an alternate point of view. Like I said it’s kind of like Drop Dead Gorgeous. What I found as hateful and awful others find funny. So is life

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      8. Well and remember we feel the same way about colorized black and white movies.🙂 I want this blog to be a forum. Nobody is wrong or right. It’s just a place to express reactions and perspectives.

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      9. No two people can agree all the time. When I was visiting extended family of my aunt’s a few days ago, I got along very well with the father who is one of the biggest Disney fans out there. He was so impressed when I was able to name every one in the animated canon after The Little Mermaid that he showed me his home office decorated in Disney memorabilia, bobbleheads, picture frames, and Beatles albums.

        He also recommended me a list of books about Disney and let me look through his, then proceeded to set up a DVD player in the guest room for me to watch DVDs like The Boys: Sherman Brothers Story and Waking Sleeping Beauty on that he got out for me. I told him that he was a really cool guy and that it was funny that I had only one Disney book (The Disney Films by Leonard Maltin) and it seemed to be the only one he doesn’t have!

        Then in the morning after watching some of Waking Sleeping Beauty, I commented on the colorized clip of Walt Disney, and mentioned something about ranting with a Mormon girl online who was angry about the colorized Miracle of 34th Street and he said that the colorized version of Miracle on 34th Street wasn’t too bad because it isn’t a classic but insisted “NO COLORIZING CASABLANCA” which he promptly got one of his eldest sons to repeat.

        I can relate to his son’s opinion more in that he felt split on the issue. He’s passionate about working in film and has made videos with his friends, and he said he likes the idea of adding some of your own work to an already existing one about colorization, but he also has negative feelings about it due to the idea of altering someone else’s work without their consent, and does at least feel the original B&W should always be provided.

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      10. They sound like my kind of people! I totally agree part of having friends is learning from differences and making your own life richer. We can actually learn something about appreciating others points of view on important things when we can appreciate their views on something silly like movies.

        It’s tough saying what is a classic. So much debate but the principle of not altering someone’s art would apply even to bad movies. The content is irrelevant even if it is less personally abhorrent.

        I totally agree that someone colorizing their own work is a different matter. It’s like some say George Lucas doesnt have the right to change the original trilogy because the art belongs to the fans. That’s silly. It is his creation and if he wants to mar it he can. He shouldn’t but he can.

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      11. The son wasn’t referring to creators having their right to alter their own work. He said that his opinion on colorization is split – he likes the idea of someone being able to do something new with a work of art and in a way put their own spin on it, but he also dislikes the idea of the original creator’s work being tampered with and displaced without his consent. In other words, he is “at war with [him]self” to quote Flynn from Tangled. He did say he believes in the stipulation that the original work should always be provided.

        His father’s position was just that people can make a distinction between classic critically acclaimed masterpieces and lesser works that are free to be improved on.

        I obviously agree with Woody Allen that the principle has got to be applied across the board and it aggravates me that it is so difficult to find someone who will agree with you exactly in life. But at least believing Casablanca should be unaltered is better than my sisters taunting me for watching black-and-white television. It’s just that colorizing anything inherently encourages that mind-set.

        I love your thought on George Lucas because it’s so hard to disagree with. Lucas shouldn’t alter his beloved films but he did create them and does have the right. You could make the argument however that he at least is obligated to make the original version available once the public had welcomed it.

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      12. Agree to everything you said. Especially about George Lucas. He even destroyed the actual film negatives so no original can be released. So sad. I have an original of Star Wars but it is a bonus feature on the 2006 DVD with poor quality. Now the only way to get a decent version is to buy a laserdisk player and get the laserdisk from 1993. I guess Lucas hated the original trilogy and said he wanted them ‘out of existence’. So sad…Stupid George Lucas.

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      13. Really? Wow, that does make me angry. I never knew it was bad to that extent, because my father saw the first two in the theater and if I do watch them, I’d like to see the same ones!

        Someone reviewing Star Wars for the AFI Top 100 said “Also, shout-out to my friend Kurt, who loaned me the unmolested pre-Lucas ****** up version of Star Wars for this review.” (http://afistop100moviesreviewed.blogspot.com/2012/01/13-star-wars-episode-iv-new-hope-1977.html)

        The DVD cover of The Empire Strikes Back available on Netflix says that it “includes 1980 theatrical version available for limited time only!” and a copy of Episode V marked “Original Theatrical Version” is also available on Netflix. The 2-Disc version of “A New Hope” on Amazon also says “Includes 1977 Theatrical Version Available For Limited Time Only!” Is this a lie, then, or what exactly are these?

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      14. I’m not sure. My understanding was the only ways to get it was in the 2006 bonus sections of the DVDs or if you had original video cassettes from 80s or the laserdisks from 90s. I’ve thought about buying a laserdisk player just to watch Star Wars because that is the only way to see it on a digital quality in original release. I know that for sure. George Lucas has been very flippant about it. He doesn’t care about the fans at all and finds them a big nuisance. In fact, I think he finds Star Wars as a whole a nuisance.
        At least they are out of his hands and we can all hope JJ Abrams is redeeming them! Fingers Crossed!

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