Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
The season of Christmas annually divides the population in those who love and those who hate it. Similarly the accordant movies render mixed reactions from audiences. Some just have to watch Chevy Chase and his lighting disaster while others cannot stand the man (May I quote Buffy and say “Enjoy the movie, unless it’s about baseball or has Chevy Chase!”). The more tasteful Christmas fans indulge in the one hundredth rerun of It’s A Wonderful Life. (Curiously my mom likes to be entertained by any form of The Lord of the Rings around Christmas. The book, the movies, or the book on tape.)
For me, Christmas always means another visit from Kevin McCallister, first in Home Alone and then Lost in New York. The role that propelled Macaulay Culkin to stardom and fortune is ranked #99 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time. For those of you that don’t think the Home Alone movies are Christmas movies, let me show you how you are wrong and why the first two Home Alone installments are about the best Christmas entertainment you can get.
First off there is, of course, the glory that is Macaulay Culkin himself. He was the epitome of an adorable boy (much to his own dismay in later years): he was blonde, had big blue eyes and a cute little button nose. On top of that he approached the role of Kevin McCallister with a panache seldom seen in child actors. Sure, children can never deliver lines with the exact same “natural” feel as adult actors, but for my money Macaulay was a child actor better than legions I have seen later (in an act-off I’d even put my money on the Macaulay from back in the day over the Dakota Fanning of today). He had the sarcastic eyebrow action, the precocious wit and intonation (think of him alone at the supermarket explaining why he couldn’t possibly be there alone!) and the innocent charm to sell the idea that after a few days of wacky fun he really missed his mom, especially because it was Christmas. Creator John Hughes wrote the role of Kevin especially for Culkin, but he still auditioned hundreds of other kids to make sure Culkin was really right for the part. And, boy, was he ever! This fact is proven by the extreme shittiness that were Home Alone 3 and 4, each starring a different actor as the central child (one not even named Kevin McCallister anymore) and neither convincingly portraying what a family comedy like this needs. There is nothing more heartwarming and at the same time endearingly funny as watching the little Macaulay, who really was eight-years-old when they filmed the movie, walking along the snowy streets in his tiny coat with his gloves dangling from strings out of his sleeves.
And then there are Kevin’s nemeses, Harry and Marv, hilariously played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Little Geek Trivia: Robert de Niro was offered the part of Harry. How awesome would that have been??? But Joe Pesci sells it well. With his heavy New York accent he can pretty much say anything and make it sound funny. What makes him even more perfect for the part is his ability to switch from having a cunning plan to completely dumbstruck in a matter of seconds. As much as I love Joe, in the Home Alone movies I always wish him the worst; burns, bruises, cuts and tears. The winning factor in the evil duo is the fact that each have a distinct personality, certain characteristics that let us anticipate their reactions and what tricks they will fall for. Sure, Harry and Marv are dumber than God would allow, but in the end they deliver classic slapstick that is funny to watch even though it is obviously contrived.
Lastly there is the action aka violence that is featured in Home Alone and even more so in Lost in New York. I am not sure I would let my young kids watch these movies; they might take a cue from cute Kevin and start throwing bricks off the roof or cans of paint down the stairs. None of the things Kevin does to the burglars are particularly harmless or easy to fix. Burning someone’s head with a flame thrower? Dumping a hot iron on someone’s face? Electrocuting someone? Here the cartoony element helps the movies along. Marv and Harry are like Fred Flintstone: they fall fifty feet, shake their head and get back up again. As a little kid I hated cartoons because of these unrealistic elements. As a grown-up I can appreciate a family comedy for exactly that.
Did I say I wanted to prove to you how this is a Christmas movie? Okay, let’s do that then. The movie opens with a shot of the street the McCallisters live on, covered in snow and all houses decorated in the brightest sparkles. It’s the classic Middle American dream of Christmas. We zoom in on their particular house and go inside and it is decorated to a degree that borders on pure kitsch, especially if you take into consideration that the family is leaving for the holidays in both movies. Why go through all the trouble? For the viewers’ pleasure of course. The opening sequences of both HA and LiNY are the epitome of Christmas: everybody is in a hurry, the whole family is ganged together (even though there are members of it you would love to never see) and bickering fills every room from top to bottom. Vaguely reminiscent of your last Christmas? I thought so.
Kevin himself is a Christmas aficionado, he loves his Christmas tree, presents and enjoys being nice to people around the holidays. The most charming scenes of both movies are in fact the ones where an eight-year-old doles out great advice to the grown-ups, all in the spirit of the season. Kevin doesn’t even pray to God during this particular time either, he prays to Santa Claus to please bring his family back to him. Religious pedants stay away from these movies, they are not for you!
The spirit of Christmas is invoked in both HA and LiNY several times. Everybody is in a giving mood and works their hardest to reunite the McCallisters. Be it the Polka King of the Midwest offering Kevin’s mother a ride or the Pigeon Lady making Kevin a hot cocoa on Christmas Eve so he doesn’t have to be alone.
All this is supported by the excellent, award-winning score by John Williams. It features classic Christmas songs like “Jingle Bell Rock” as well as specially composed pieces that get you in a holiday mood instantly. Everybody can hum the Home Alone theme: da-da-dadada-dada-da-da-da-dum-dum-dada-dada. And the children’s choir singing in church when Kevin talks to his old neighbor is simply divine and bone-chillingly beautiful. It makes you long to see your own family this Christmas, give them a smile and a hug and laugh at the kids bickering over who got the best present.
Home Alone and Lost in New York are family entertainment at its best. There’s goofy fun, hilarious action, heartwarming tales, cheerful music, no long, sappy speeches to ruin it all and characters we care about. Kevin goes through the exact same journey we go through around this time of year. At first he is fed up with his family, all the arguing and the hustle and bustle. But once he is left to his own shenanigans he soon realizes that everything means nothing if you can’t be with the ones you love. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Aside from the religious nuts talking about a savior being born and the atheists denying the holiday cheer altogether, aren’t we all a bit warm inside when we finally make it to that moment under the tree, stuffed with delicious food and safe from the cold outside? Heck, if you really can’t stand your family, gather friends under the tree, pop in Home Alone and have a good time!
Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.