When it was released in 1990, Home Alone was a massive hit, creating a new holiday classic, and making Macaulay Culkin one of the biggest child stars of all time. Over the next thirty years, 20th Century Fox attempted to recreate the magic of the original after Culkin left the franchise with terrible sequels that either pumped up the absurdity (Home Alone 3), recast the McCallister family, and – strangely – put them through a divorce (Home Alone 4), or never actually left anyone home alone at all (Home Alone: The Holiday Heist). Yet with the franchise now under Disney, Home Sweet Home Alone becomes the best Home Alone sequel since the Culkin days, although that still isn’t saying much.
Most of the Home Alone films so far have followed a similar structure: a kid gets left at home with little or no supervision, a group of criminals try to rob the house, and said kid tries to defend his home. Home Sweet Home Alone maintains this format for the most part, but tells this story through the eyes of the “criminals,” Pam and Jeff Fritzovski, played by Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney, respectively. With Jeff out of work, the couple has to sell their family home, and during an open house, they meet Max Mercer (Archie Yates), who pokes fun at a box of old dolls that Jeff finds in his closet.
Soon after, the Fritzovskis notice that one of the dolls is extremely rare and worth $200,000, a clear solution to their dire money problems. When they try to find the doll, they discover it missing, and assume that Max must’ve taken it. The Fritzovskis arrive at Max’s house just in time to see the Mercer family leaving for Christmas vacation, yet they also see where the family left their keys while they’re gone. Even though the Fritzovskis don’t want to break and enter, their money problems make this an urgent matter, as they decide they need to get into the house and get that doll. What they don’t know is that young Max has been left home alone, and after seeing the Fritzovskis near his house, Max assumes that this couple is trying to kidnap him, and decides he has to protect himself and his home.
Focusing on the criminals is an interesting direction to take this story, and Kemper and Delaney are easily the best group of burglars that this franchise has seen since Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern). Yet in shifting this focus, it also makes the audience care for these characters, to a point that they don’t want to see this well-meaning duo get hurt through inventive and painful ways. Making matters worse, it feels sort of tone-deaf to have this couple who are struggling to get by having to break into a clearly rich family’s home in order to keep their own home. A couple trying to do their best to stay afloat doesn’t deserve third-degree burns and Nerf guns full of darts with tacks attached to them.
In a strange way, Home Sweet Home Alone almost makes the home alone kid secondary to this story, which might be for the best. Once more, this goes through the same beats of the other films, albeit in a truncated version. Max goes through the same celebration of childish freedom that we’ve seen for over three decades, complete with eating overwhelming amounts of junk food, and doing exactly what his parents have told him not to do when they were around. There’s of course the kid wishing he could make his family disappear, and the mother (Aisling Bea) attempting to get back to her son once the family realizes they’ve abandoned the kid.
Home Sweet Home Alone fits all of this in seemingly because it’s what the audience expects. The script by Saturday Night Live’s Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell seems like it has a checklist of moments from the original film that has to reproduced, but these moments are either rushed or placed into quick montages that don’t do much other than exist for nostalgia sake. If Home Sweet Home Alone can change the focus of the story to the criminals fairly effectively, then there’s no reason why this film has to continue living in the past.
But by also brushing by these moments, Home Sweet Home Alone misses the family dynamic that made the original so special. The family here is almost a non-entity, yet the casting is so good, it seems clear that there must be more of the cutting room floor. Great comedians like Andy Daly and Chris Parnell are relegated to glorified cameos without a single joke from either of them, while at least Pete Holmes does get a few decent lines in the panic to leave for vacation on time. But by shrinking the importance of family here, it misses a key element of what made Home Alone a long-lasting favorite.
When watching Home Sweet Home Alone, it almost feels like a more direct retelling of Home Alone was originally filmed, then that material was mostly scrapped to tell a more original story in this series. Director Dan Mazer does the best with what he can, but this still feels like a more reverent film crammed into this new take. Considering that filing was shut down during COVID, it’s entirely possible Home Sweet Home Alone is the result of a structural overhaul.
But while the nostalgia here can be crippling to the overall story, it also provides some of the film’s best moments. The return of Devin Ratray as Kevin McCallister’s big brother, Buzz, manages to both revel in the past of the series, without being too beholden to it. Instead of just reciting the same old jokes once more, Ratray’s role finds a fantastic way to homage the original this is smartly handled and hilarious.
Even though Home Alone seems like a fairly basic conceit, the original – written by John Hughes – was deceptively simple, yet expertly crafted. Director Chris Columbus reportedly once said of Hughes, “John really filled in every possible logic hole, and the audience always bought it.” What Hughes wrote with the original was almost like one of Kevin’s impeccably pieced together traps: perfectly constructed with every piece falling into the right place. Over the decades, multiple sequels have to recapture what Hughes did and failed miserably.
Yet of all the post-Culkin films in this series, Home Sweet Home Alone gets the closest to recapturing the spirit of what made Home Alone work, despite mostly ignoring the family dynamics of the child at the center of the story, and speeding past the kid’s wish fulfillment of being home alone. This newest sequel makes some fantastic choices in the beginning, and in the charming conclusion, but Home Sweet Home Alone’s reverence for the original clashes with the film’s more unique ideas that actually makes this a delightful surprise at times. Home Sweet Home Alone proves that this franchise is no longer what the French call “les incompétents,” but this franchise still has some work to do in order to get back to its glory days.
Home Sweet Home Alone comes to Disney+ on November 12.