As I type this opening sentence, I can’t help but hear the collective groan of my readership when talking about the ‘themes’ of Home Alone. What could possibly be thoughtful about a 90s family comedy? The thing about big hits is often, sometimes unintentionally, they explore ideas that resonate with viewers in a way that makes the film last. Home Alone is such a film, and understanding these themes makes it that much easier to understand why, despite seemingly following the same story, Home Alone 2 isn’t quite as beloved a classic.
The Growing & Ungrowing of Kevin
When I was young, I was into Home Alone for the elaborate booby trap sequences at the end. While I still enjoy the kid-friendly version of Straw Dogs, as I get older, I find myself more enjoying Kevin’s first steps into adulthood. When his family leaves, Kevin initially views it as liberating, but as time goes on he grows to miss his family, and slowly learns to take care of and defend himself in the face of life’s challenges. From a plot standpoint, Home Alone 2 follows roughly the same story with Kevin getting cut off from his family and once again facing the Wet Bandits, this time referred to as the Sticky Bandits. The plot is there, but the themes are not.
At its core, Home Alone 2 is about a kid who spoils himself with his parents’ money before meeting someone less fortunate than him. Feeling guilty over his actions, he sets out to do a good deed and stop some criminals from plundering money from a children’s hospital. These are solid ideas in the spirit of the holiday season, but there are some elements that keep the movie from quite hitting the mark like the original. Now before you say I’m reading too much into this, hear me out.
Kevin the (Ir)Responsible
For one, Kevin’s behavior is in sharp contrast to how he acted in the original. One of the most important lessons Kevin learns in the first film is responsibility. Stuck in an empty house with a low supply of food and other necessities, Kevin needs to take care of himself. He does so by going into older brother Buzz’s room to collect his life savings. The scene is played as a comedic set-piece, but it still makes the point. Kevin learns how hard it is to take care of himself, so when he does get the money, he shows incredible restraint. Kevin only buys what he needs, and even goes so far as to use a coupon to save a little cash. When it comes to Buzz’s money, Kevin is responsible and unselfish.
Kevin’s father doesn’t receive the same consideration. Upon landing in New York, Kevin immediately gets a room at the most expensive hotel and makes requests for the fanciest accommodations he can think of. During his trip around New York, Kevin splurges money on unnecessary things like limo rides and lavish room service. This behavior is not the same that we saw from Kevin in the first movie. To the film’s credit, he does later regret this and tries to make amends by stopping the Bandits formerly known as Wet, but after seeing him behave in such excess, his attempt at redemption does come across as hollow.
There’s also a major problem with how the film vilifies those who try to stop Kevin’s wrongdoings. One of the antagonists of Home Alone 2 is a hotel worker played by Tim Curry (who we’ll just call Tim Curry) who suspects Kevin is using a stolen credit card. Curry is one of the best parts about Home Alone 2, delivering a deliciously slimy performance that never fails to be funny. The issue is the movie paints him as a villain. He is simply trying to stop Kevin from using a stolen credit card. That he is painted as bad for doing so goes against what the film is trying to say and makes Kevin seem entitled to the wealth he’s spending.
Old Men & Pigeon Women
Both films feature a character that represents the themes of their films. In both cases, it’s someone who initially frightens Kevin, but who ultimately becomes a friend who teaches him an important life lesson. In the original, it was Marley, Kevin’s elderly neighbor. Marley, like Kevin, is home alone for the holidays, serving as a personification of Kevin’s loneliness and an omen of his possible future. When the two finally speak, they have a heartfelt discussion about how they didn’t appreciate their families. The film ends with both reuniting with their loved ones on Christmas morning, celebrating the holidays as they were intended. It’s earnest moments like this that helped Home Alone become a hit, and why it is revered as a holiday classic.
The Pigeon Woman is Home Alone 2‘s answer to Marley. She’s intended as a symbol of poverty, and it’s through her that Kevin learns there are those less fortunate than him, motivating him to stop the Sticky Bandits. The problem is these themes are not only glossed over, they’re deflected from. Kevin’s talk with the Pigeon Woman begins interestingly with her speaking about how she is ignored by upper society, but the film pivots. The scene then becomes about her broken heart, which is insinuated to be the real reason she’s homeless.
By the end of the film, nothing changes. The Pigeon Woman is given a gesture of friendship from Kevin that, while sweet, doesn’t provide the same closure Marley got. It’s made all the more hollow in how the McCallisters are rewarded with a hoard of presents while the Pigeon Woman is still left out in Central Park. A more appropriate ending would have been Kevin introducing her to his family, perhaps paving the way for her to get back on her feet through this new connection. Instead, the film wastes this opportunity to repeat another comedic beat from the end of the original.
One of the most impressive things about Kevin in the original is his ability for personal growth. At the start of the film, Kevin is not a sympathetic character. The film doesn’t take his side during his blow-up at the family dinner, and when he snaps at his mother, the film shows her to be genuinely hurt. Later on, Kevin admits to Marley he’s ‘been a pain,’ acknowledging his mistakes and saying that Marley should reach out to his own son so he doesn’t fall into the same trap. It’s one of Kevin’s most mature moments in the film, and one of the reasons the character has endured.
A major disappointment in Home Alone 2 is seeing Kevin revert to his old behavior. Once he gets in trouble, Kevin again tries to make amends, but after seeing the exact same beats from the previous film, it just doesn’t feel as genuine the second time around. Make no mistakes. Home Alone 2 is much more of a screwball comedy than the original with plenty of funny moments. The main problem is we don’t see Kevin grow anymore like he did in the original, for the most part at least. There is one area where Kevin does become more of an adult, and it’s perhaps the highlight of the film.
Stopping the Wet (or Sticky) Bandits
For its faults, Home Alone 2 does get one, or rather two things, absolutely right. Marv and Harry, the bumbling bandits from the original are back and still incredibly funny. In the original, the pair represented the ultimate test of adversity for Kevin. After spending most of the film relying on everyone else for help, Kevin now has to defend the house and himself from a home invasion. In creating the film’s iconic traps, he overcomes the ultimate test and achieves his independence. In the case of the original film, Kevin was defending himself. In the sequel, Kevin is trying to help others.
This is the kind of thing the sequel could have further elaborated on. Kevin learning to take care of himself is hard enough. Taking care of others is a much bigger responsibility, and seeing him make that transition could have been very rewarding, and funny. It’s not elaborated on as much as it could have been, but as with the rest of the film, the beginnings of a good idea are there. The odd thing is a lot of the film’s problems could have been fixed with just a few small touches.
So, Home Alone 2, like the original, had some interesting ideas and themes, but unlike the original, it doesn’t explore them quite as well. What holds them back is it doesn’t build on Kevin’s maturity from the original, because the smarter Kevin from the original would have made better choices. He should have called his parents after landing in New York. The family naturally would put him in a hotel until their arrival, and would naturally call the hotel staff to explain the situation.
It’s fascinating how many problems this one act would have solved. If the family did this and Tim Curry STILL accused Kevin of fraud, then his behavior would have been villainous and the movie would have been absolutely right to lampoon him. It also wouldn’t have diminished from the ideas of the movie. Kevin would have been more in line with his character in the original, but he’d still spend the trip in a nice hotel oblivious of poverty before being chased into New York’s underworld where he’d befriend the Pigeon Woman. The only loss would be one or two set-pieces.
This could have also provided some opportunities to build on the strife between Kevin and his family. This could have led to fights over the phone, leaving them with that much more to mend once the adventure is over. In trying to repeat the original film, Home Alone 2 tries to have it once more be about him and his mother. Instead, Kevin’s father could have been the focus this time around, or perhaps even Buzz, easily Kevin’s most strained relationship. Imagine how satisfying it would have been if Buzz came to Kevin’s rescue in the park. It’s fascinating how much small changes can strengthen a film, and in the case of Home Alone 2, little touches like this would have made a big difference in giving the sequel the same heart as the first.
Lost In the Sequel
If you managed to get through this and still think I’m taking this too seriously, I really enjoy Home Alone 2. I not only had the Talkboy tape recorder as a kid, but also the Talkboy Pen and Talkboy Junior! The difference is how well the original balanced comedy with genuine heart. Emotional moments in the original Home Alone got as much focus as the comedy, and only resonate more as I grow older. Home Alone 2 tries some similar ideas, but in backtracking on the progress Kevin made the first time around, those ideas are sacrificed for the sake of repeating familiar tropes. It’s still the best sequel in the series and for me is subject to regular viewings this time of year. But while I enjoy Home Alone 2 as a comedy, the original is one I enjoy as an adult, and as I grow older, becoming less like Kevin and more like Marley, that love only grows stronger.
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