Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost In New York are a bit like cheese and crackers; like Cheech and Chong; like Robson and Jerome: they’re just not quite right without each other. Despite a four year gap in the release of the two films and barely a distinction between the two apart from the setting, these films are an intended double-bill that just can’t live without each other. Though it’s easy to watch them separately, it’s not the same as having the two side-by-side.
As I’ve already covered in this season’s posts and in many other posts gone by, John Hughes is the master of some of the greatest films to grace our screens, and with the Home Alone films its no different. Hughes has an intuitive way of tapping into what we love about Christmas the most and what is sometimes difficult to face up to at Christmas: large families coming together. This is exacerbated in both Home Alone films by having these large families going on vacation together. Cue mad dashes across the house and through the airport as this tight yet aloof family rushes to make Christmas possible. And of course, what happens both times? Mischievous yet endearing Kevin gets left behind.
The first Home Alone film is such a genius concept: semi-black sheep of the family Kevin McCallister is sent to sleep in the attic the night before his family’s big Christmas vacation, due to his unsavoury yet provoked behaviour. With a bully of a big brother, an ass of an Uncle and a distracted Mum and Dad, Kevin vies for attention but often gains it in the wrong way – and we’ve all been there. As the family wake up late and make a mad dash across the house to get everything in order, a nosy neighbourhood kid gets included in the head count and so the family leave the home, safe in the knowledge that all is well. Yet his Mother has niggles when settled on the plane: have they left the gas on? Did she leave her straighteners on? Nope – they left their kid, home alone.
Naturally the mischievous Kevin revels in this blessed opportunity and proceeds to carry out our wildest dreams as we all could only hope to have been left alone: he eats junk food, watches grown up films, bounces on his parents bed and generally enjoys the freedom we all yearn for as kids. Yet lurking in the neighbourhood are the Wet Bandits, a criminal duo that are robbing empty houses at Christmas. As Kevin cleverly faces up to them with the ingenious and comedic final act, we see under the surface of this vulnerable kid and realise that being home alone isn’t all that great.
What makes this first film such a gem is the fact that its set at Christmas. Any other time of year could be forgiven, but Kevin’s yearning for his family grows stronger as he approaches Christmas and the realisation that he will be on his own. Christmas is a time to be with family and as mad as they might be, we need them with us. It’s no fun being home alone. The other perfect thing about Home Alone is the clever shift in tone from comedic to melancholic as Kevin faces his supposedly murderous neighbour and sees only a lonely old man looking to reconnect with his son. Old and young mirror each other perfectly. The other shift in tone goes from fear to outright fun as a series of inventive traps are set by Kevin to deter the Wet Bandits from robbing his home at Christmas. And the fitting final ending where Kevin is reunited with his family and sees the solace brought to the old man next door leaves us with that warm and loving feeling that only a Christmas film can bring.
And so to Home Alone 2: Lost In New York that borrows heavily on the same concept as the original but transports Kevin from the comforts of his own home to a big, bright and overbearing new city – not that this deters young Kevin, who carries with him his recorder and his Father’s wallet. Taking advantage of his time alone and a seemingly endless credit card, Kevin enjoys the sights and sounds of beautiful New York at Christmastime. But it’s not before long that he runs in to trouble, as the Wet Bandits – now known as the Sticky Bandits – arrive in town and discover the mischievous McCallister is once again within their reach. There is also a similar lost-person connection with Kevin and the pigeon lady that mirrors the original film but once again serves a fitting purpose to the spirit of Christmas. The inventive traps and hilarious set pieces in the final act, though similar to the original, only manage to evoke the same gut laughs and almost make us hope for the same kind of film each year. Being lost in a beautiful but scary city is terrifying, and just as in the first film, Kevin’s joy soon wains as he wishes to be with his family at Christmas. In front of the beautiful Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center, Kevin’s Christmas wish comes true as he is reunited with his Mother and eventually, his family.
Though not exactly brimming with Christmas elements, its certainly true to say that these films wouldn’t have had the same impact if they weren’t set during the holidays. It’s the isolation of being alone and the crisp cold scenery that only amp up the story. Though Home Alone 3 and 4 were released they were severely lacking Hughes’ effort or Culkin’s sweet yet mischievous manner, let alone the Wet/Sticky Bandits’ hilarious tribulations.
TOMORROW: Kid’s Christmas