In a year that has flown by, we’re not far from the holidays once again. Christmas services and door-to-door caroling are back. Among the holiday movies that run on repeat, “Home Alone,” from writer-producer John Hughes and director Chris Columbus, stands apart for its comedic charm and ultimately bighearted message.
Not long ago, this blockbuster 1990 family film received a limited run in theaters every December. Parents would bring young kids who had never seen it before, the room echoing with their laughter. Last Thanksgiving, my wife and I experienced a similar scene with our four-year-old nephew, when his parents let him see it for the first time.
He could not contain his delight as young Kevin bested pratfalling baddies Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in scene after scene. “Mommy, I think those bad guys need to go to the hospital!” he said through fits of giggling. Somehow an overplayed kids movie, with deeper themes than you may recall, brings joy and creates a lasting holiday moment.
No wonder, then, when Disney acquired 20th Century Fox two years ago, another “Home Alone” remake quickly got the greenlight. After all, Disney runs a Magic Kingdom of franchises now. Landing November 12 on Disney Plus, the sixth franchise entry, titled “Home Sweet Home Alone,” does not inspire any interest with its trailer or short description.
It’s so derivative of the original Macaulay Culkin flick that screenwriter Hughes, who died in 2009, even has a story credit. Seemingly self-aware that it’s only recycling clichés, the new trailer includes the line: “Holiday classics were meant to be broken.”
Columbus, who directed the first two hit films, said last year he found this remake pointless. “It’s a waste of time as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “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. It’s just not going to happen. So why do it?”
He didn’t even touch on bigger issues, like why no parent or child in this 2021-set film has a working cell phone. Beyond its copycat plot, this latest sequel reveals how the Hollywood model is breaking down.
Unnecessary Reboots Taint Silver Screen Classics
Lately, it seems film and TV studios cannot decline any opportunity to extend a franchise. Examples abound of projects either announced or currently filming that make fans ask: Is nothing sacred?
Disney is surely the worst offender, with their string of a dozen live-action “reimagined” versions of animated classics. Considering several have earned more than $1 billion at the global box office, they’re only doubling down on this strategy. It reflects a mindset common in dumbed-down family entertainment: kids will watch anything.
In 2019, “The Lion King” was remade, heavy with computer-generated imagery. Although basically unwatchable, it found an audience, so it’s understandable why “The Little Mermaid” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” are up for the live-action treatment. “Avengers: Endgame” directors Joe and Anthony Russo are even going to try their hand at a take on Disney’s “Hercules.”
In critiquing “Home Alone 6,” Columbus also took aim at these “paint-by-numbers versions of Disney animated films,” as he called them. “What’s the point? It’s been done. Do your own thing. Even if you fail miserably, at least you’ve come up with something original.” (Last month, Columbus inked a deal to create a new Disney Plus drama and may have a more Mouse-friendly tone in interviews ahead.)
Other Mouse House reboots in the works are head-scratchers, many targeted as streaming exclusives. A prequel to “Beauty and the Beast” will reportedly feature neither beauty nor beast. “Cheaper By the Dozen” got updated only a few years back, but Disney is teeing up another take, this time with a blended multi-ethnic family.
But, wait, there’s more! A remake of mostly forgotten 1980’s sci-fi adventure “Flight of the Navigator,” about a boy who pilots an extraterrestrial vessel, is coming, with the lead role gender-swapped. Speaking of aliens, there’s even a live-action treatment underway for Hawaiian-set comedy “Lilo and Stitch.”
Recent corporate changes at Disney may only exacerbate this trend. Known as a number-cruncher without film experience, former theme parks Vice President Bob Chapek has taken over as chief executive officer. A recent feature story details Chapek’s focus on “brand extension” films and shows, supposedly sure-fire hits, rather than risk-taking creative concepts.
“The single biggest topic is, does Disney now think its IP (intellectual property) is more important than talent itself?” asked Rich Greenfield, a top entertainment analyst.
Franchises Are Careening Out of Control
Remakes and sequels don’t have to be merely “cash grabs.” When grounded in a compelling script and a talented director’s vision, some have surpassed the original in quality.
For instance, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” re-teamed all the key talent from the first, adding comedy legend Tim Curry and a few others for an enjoyable ride. Within the Disney empire, one can find examples where nostalgia and established characters are employed to tell moving and worthwhile stories.
Today, franchises have replaced movie stars as the primary audience draw. When was the last time you went out to see the latest Will Smith thriller or Julia Roberts rom-com? It’s all brands now, from Matrix to Spider-Man to Christmas Prince. A low point in this trend was “Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw,” a harbinger of that franchise extending from street racing to now space-bound vehicles.
The primary takeaway is that studios respond only to dollars. Franchises rake in profits, so they make more. For them to make better choices, audience members may have to seek out surprising, challenging entertainment options rather than repackaged favorites.
Perhaps one place to start: skip “Home Sweet Home Alone.” Sure, it costs you nothing if you’re a Disney Plus subscriber – but attention is the new currency in the streaming wars. Studios now watch “minutes spent streaming” like they used to box office dollars. Don’t let them imagine families want this, especially when better holiday viewing options are a remote click away.