Continuing my series on Christmas movies and their endurance through the years in holiday entertainment, today I select a more contemporary favorite; one of my own generation.
Home Alone and its sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York are classics of the 90’s on their own, with or without the fact that they’re also considered Christmas classics by many. Kevin McCallister will always be the role that McCauley Culkin is most remembered for; a career high at a ridiculously early age. So why is this museum of 90’s caricatures a must-watch year after year?
Home Alone combines the worst fears of every parent (their child being alone and preyed on by miscreants) and the worst fears of every child (being left behind), and turns it into something hilarious and lightly sentimental. Most young boys fantasize about how they would deal with “bad guys”; Home Alone runs with this idea, presenting that maybe a kid with an imagination might be a force to be reckoned with. In many ways, Home Alone is the actualization of this boyish fantasy to protect his home and fight off “bad guys,” while also lightly exploring the delusions of adulthood from the perspective of a kid. Home Alone isn’t just a juvenile’s dream of playing the soldier, but also the fancy of playing grown-up for real: braving the basement, picking out your own food, sole possession of the remote control, and all of the fun things about adulthood, with none of the real responsibilities.
The fantasy aspect of the Home Alones is certainly not the only factor contributing to their appeal, but I do believe that it contributes significantly. The boyhood tale of valor versus the bad guys feels familiar to anyone who remembers what it was like to be a kid and to have such imaginations. But what is also familiar here is the unapologetic portrayal of family. Home Alone delivers multiple moments of frustration and drama, and very few of the maudlin displays of love and affection more often associated with holiday movies. Whether it's crass uncle Frank, plump and sweet Aunt Leslie, bullying big brother Buzz, or a devoted but exasperated mom, everyone can find that one family member onscreen that's a heck of a lot like someone they know in their own family.
Unlike the plethora of holiday-themed romance movies or feel-good family movies, the originality of Home Alone and its sequel Lost in New York are two of a kind that has been often imitated, but never duplicated, and certainly never surpassed. The Home Alones marry a Three Stooges style buffoonery with light sentimentality and the one thing every audience member can relate to: a difficult family. That combination, carried by character archetypes of the 1990’s and the suburban holiday backdrop, make the Home Alone movies a unique kind of entertainment that is one part wishful thinking (beating up the bad guys through ingenuity), one part realistic association (difficult family, holiday hubbub), and by now, a bit of nostalgia for those of us that remember the 90's.