My partner in crime and I were in New York City this weekend for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and more generally, to take in the sights of the holidays in the Big Apple. Say what you will about New Yawk, but that town knows how to celebrate Christmas. Whether you’re ice skating under the tree at Rockefeller Center, making your way through the crowds of shoppers at Macy’s, or grabbing a drink at Rolf’s German Restaurant, the Christmas spirit permeates Manhattan as if you had sleigh bells politely chiming along your every footstep.
When we returned to Philly, I saw it fitting to begin our annual December tradition: the Piotrowski Christmas Movie Marathon. I combed through my blu-ray collection for the perfect choice.
“I haven’t seen Home Alone 2 in years.” my fiancé suggested. I thought back to my last viewing, which was in high school in AV class around Christmas time. I remember uproarious laughter and not much else. And what better flick to start with than a movie that is set in the city we just visited? Home Alone 2: Lost in New York it was.
As I do with most films I watch, especially ones I have previously seen, I checked Rotten Tomatoes as I put the disc into the blu-ray player. Having fond memories of Home Alone 2, I was extremely surprised to find a 24% RT score for the Macaulay Culkin sequel. Though I disagree quite a bit with a diluting the nuances of someone’s feelings about a film into a black-or-white rating then aggregating those ratings into one big score, I do understand the value of Rotten Tomatoes as a general consensus engine to give me a feel for where my thoughts stand amongst the masses. Even still, 24% is an abysmal percentage by anyone’s standards.
I was relieved to find that Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is as timeless as I remembered it, a silly comedy with a heart of gold, frankincense and myrrh (I couldn’t resist). And with Chris Columbus directing a John Hughes script, why should I expect anything less? The original was great! Well as it turns out, the first Home Alone wasn’t as revered by the critics as it was by the box office either, sitting at a mediocre 54% on Rotten Tomatoes. In any case, most seemed to think Lost in New York suffered from sequelitis, product placement, and the Macaulay Calkin schtick outstaying its welcome. I whole-heartedly disagree with the rap Home Alone 2: Lost in New York has gotten. In fact, I think it’s better than the first movie. That’s right, I said it!
Home Alone 2 ratchets up everything we loved about the first one without the law of diminishing returns kicking in. Here’s why:
The premise isn’t as malicious as the original. In the original, Kevin’s parents are so forgetful that they flat-out forget their kid at home and don’t even notice his absence because they had banished him to the attic the night before. Despite this error, Kevin’s mother (Catherine O’Hara) seems to be the only one that cares about making sure Kevin is OK. Rather than good parents who’ve made an honest mistake, the whole McAllister family comes off like a bunch of a-holes. In Lost in New York, the reason for their circumstances is due to Kevin’s own misperception, thinking that he’s following his dad through the airport when really it’s just a businessman with a similar coat. This is much easier to swallow than a family who doesn’t even notice or care about their son’s wellbeing. Perhaps this is because…
Kevin is less annoying and more genuine. In the first film, Kevin is innocently intentioned if a bit spoiled, but cannot seem to get out of anyone’s way. The family’s annoyance with him is completely understandable, which makes it harder to side with Kevin (and Culkin) as the protagonist. Throughout Lost in New York, Kevin is nothing more than a boy who wants to spend Christmas the way it’s intended: with snow, a tree, toys (of course), and time with his family. In fact, the punishment he receives this time around, for pushing his brother Buzz during a Christmas choir performance, isn’t even warranted. Buzz humiliated Kevin in front of an audience of people, who laughed maniacally at Kevin. Buzz deserved to get punched in the face, let alone a shove. This paints Kevin as a sweet kid with a bad rap in the sequel, which make his antics all the more enjoyable once he goes to battle with the Wet Bandits. Which brings me to my next point…
Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern have much more fun with Harry and Marv this time around. These guys really stretch stretch comedic legs in Lost in New York. They play the Wet Bandits as a dim-witted but ultimately more dangerous duo this time around. Daniel Stern is even more ridiculous and shrill than his Marv in the original, and Pesci doesn’t play Harry as Goodfellas-y. In fact, I am unsure whether Joe Pesci knew what type of movie he was in for the original Home Alone, but he obviously course corrected for the sequel.
The slapstick in Lost in New York would make The Three Stooges proud. The slapstick during the home raid climax of the original movie became the film’s calling card, despite the fact that the film was more about Kevin exploring his independence, with the Wet Bandits simply acting as a mechanism to raise the stakes. Lost in New York is nothing but a big stakes raise, largely centered around Kevin on the run: from Harry and Marv, from the Hotel Concierge (Tim Curry), from the strange people he meets in Central Park. This provides much more reason for the slapstick comedy that made the first so great, and the count of Rube Goldberg machines acting as weapons in Kevin’s arsenal is impressive. More slapstick = more comedy, and Lost in New York does not disappoint.
It’s better directed. Don’t believe me? Watch the first 20 minutes. The hustle and bustle of a family going on vacation is so well-choreographed that it looks chaotic, and the reason for the similar events from the first movie are very well explained visually. In addition, the themes of the sequel are much more aligned with the spirit of Christmas than the original, which makes Lost in New York a much more suitable, pure holiday movie.
What do you think of the Home Alone films? Are they a must-see for you and your family during the holiday season? Let me know in the comments!