Home > Reviews > Dual Review: “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York”

Dual Review: “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York”

Home AloneHome Alone
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Produced by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Edited by: Raja Gosnell
Cinematography by: Julio Macat
Music by: John Williams
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, John Heard, John Candy, Roberts Blossom, Gerry Bamman
Year: 1990

 

Home Alone 2: Lost in New YorkHome Alone 2: Lost in New York
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Produced by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Edited by: Raja Gosnell
Cinematography by: Julio Macat
Music by: John Williams
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Tim Curry, Rob Schneider, Dana Ivey, Brenda Fricker, Catherine O’Hara, Eddie Bracken, John Heard, Gerry Bamman
Year: 1992

 

It had been a long time since I had seen any of the Home Alone films when I bought the Blu-Ray set of the first two films that went on sale earlier this month for the lovely price of about $12. Being in a spend-y mood, I bought it happily, having wanted but never owned the first two films since I was a little kid. (Oddly, I did own a VHS of the third film.) And, I gotta say, while I still mostly enjoyed the films, even at age 26, I didn’t find myself laughing at them nearly as much as I had as a little kid. It’s not that I’m above the whole slapstick thing — I just watched Ted for the first time tonight, and one of the funniest parts of that movie was the ridiculously violent beat down the teddy bear gives Mark Wahlberg — but I certainly felt a lot more cynical about it than I had expected.

Home Alone - Kevin McCallister

Perhaps it was the fact that I watched them back-to-back in one night. Perhaps it was because I watched them while cooking a turkey that inadvertently filled my apartment with large plumes of smoke (the turkey turned out fine, but I’m still unsure what caused all that). Or perhaps it’s because I realized that 2 is basically just a remake of 1 with extra ridiculous and a hefty dollop of moralizing. Maybe it was a combination of those factors.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York - Kevin McCallisterSo, rather than review these films separately, as I would with any other franchise, I decided to review them at the same time. Unlike with last year’s Grudge Match Review of adaptations of A Christmas Carol, however, this isn’t really a competition, but rather an efficient way of killing two birds with one stone. After all, take a look at those credits up there. The films are identical in cast and crew, with the second one doing the typical sequel thing by throwing in a few new faces for good measure, and, for the most part, they are the same in story structure, too.

If you have somehow not seen either of the movies, here’s a rundown of the basic story structure: Kevin McCallister’s house is overrun with extended family as they prepare to go on a big family vacation for Christmas. Kevin has an argument with his family, and, the next morning, in the chaos to get to their destination, Kevin is separated from his family. Left on his own, Kevin makes the most of his situation and lives out every kid’s dream until he comes into conflict with Marv and Harry, two bandits who plan to ruin Christmas through some crazy scheme.

Home Alone - The Wet Bandits

Kevin then uses his wits and a series of booby traps he sets up around the house (alone) in order to foil the bandits and save Christmas, all while learning an important lesson about compassion from another lonely soul who previously seemed scary to him. Mission accomplished and new friendships formed, Kevin then regrets fighting with his family and wishes to be reunited with them once more, especially his mother. Through some Christmas Home Alone 2: Lost in New York - The Sticky Banditsmiracle, Kevin is then reunited with them just in the nick of time, and it’s a Merry Christmas for everyone, except the bandits.

Despite being essentially the same story with minor changes, a problem that would somewhat be fixed with the unrelated third film, there are some key differences between the two that set them apart from each other just enough that it’s understandable why some would prefer one over the other.

The first film, for example, benefits from a more genuine sentimentality, coming from the perspective of an 8-year-old child (Macaulay Culkin in his break-out role after featuring in writer-producer John Hughes’ Uncle Buck previously) who could reasonably believe that he wished his family into non-existence and still be frightened by things like the loud basement furnace, the elderly man next door who salts the sidewalks, and the violent gangster movie nobody would let him see. When Kevin is finally reunited with his frantic mother, the emotional response between the two is surprisingly sweet, with the two of them spending a good portion of the film regretting the way they had treated each other the last time they spoke, with Kevin praying for his family’s return and his mother having spent her vacation time trying to get back to Kevin, no matter the cost.

Home Alone - Catherine O'HaraThe second film loses a lot of the genuine sentimentality thanks to the fact that the separation between Kevin and his family is based less in mutual mistreatment and more out of a simple mistake, as Kevin, believing him to be his father, follows the wrong man to the wrong gate, winding up in New York City instead of Florida with the rest of his family. Aside from the family situation, the friendship that develops between Kevin and the Home Alone 2: Lost in New York - Catherine O'Harahomeless pigeon lady in Home Alone 2 is also underdeveloped, and the dialogue between the two in the concert hall, where Kevin dishes far too many on-the-nose platitudes about her situation, is far too contrived to feel like an authentic friendship has formed, unlike with the salt-shoveling neighbor from the first, which felt more like two going through the same pain helping each other out. Add to this the subplot about a kindly toy store owner’s charity drive for a children’s hospital, and you’ve got yourself a rather cloying package.

The very fact that the film is basically one big stunt (i.e., It’s like the first film, but in New York City instead of a house!) doesn’t exactly help. It’s like one of those episodes of a sitcom where the whole cast goes to some big well known location like Disneyland or, well, New York City, only they’re also repurposing an earlier draft of some former episode’s script, too.

Home Alone - Roberts BlossomWhat it loses in heart and whatever originality the first film had, however, the second makes up for it with better (i.e., faster) comedic timing. The first film tends to drag in the middle, and the interrupting of the big finale’s gags with too many shots of Kevin pumping his fists and shouting “YES!” repeatedly in triumph gets old fast. The second film’s finale has far more cartoonishly violent and ridiculous gags, and they also come at a much Home Alone 2: Lost in New York - Brenda Frickerfaster rate than before with fewer interruptions from Kevin. Audiences aren’t given much time to think about the improbability of everything, and it’s easier to just accept the mayhem going on as a result. It’s a rare instance of  throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall (literally?) to see what sticks working in a film’s favor. The hotel scenes also have a silly sort of fun about them, too, keeping the film more consistent in tone. I still find Tim Curry’s forced deliveries of “I love you!” and Harry being hit repeatedly by falling bricks pretty darn amusing.

Ultimately, each has their strengths, and it will likely depend upon what you’re more in the mood for than anything, if you’re only going to watch one. Chances are, however, that if you own both, you’re going to watch both at some point during the Christmas season. Perhaps you just shouldn’t watch them back-to-back like I did. I think Home Alone 2 has the better comedic timing, and I enjoy it a bit more as a result, but Home Alone is sweeter and has a better script and performances, too. They both feature a classic Christmas-themed John Williams score, however (with the first film’s soundtrack earning an Oscar nomination), and though neither film is perfect, they both remain entertaining holiday classics to this day. You really can’t go wrong with either for some nice, easy laughs.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating (Home Alone): 3 / 5

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating (Home Alone 2: Lost in New York): 3 / 5

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