Franchise fatigue is nothing new. Everyone is talking about the countless Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe projects, but Home Alone was ahead of the game. The first one is a beloved Christmas Classic, the second is a worthy (if not overly familiar) follow-up and the third is the last one that most people are aware of. At the very least, Home Alone 3 is the last one that people are willing to talk about. That’s because, those who have seen Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House, usually have nothing good to say about it…which isn’t a surprise.
The story serves as a direct sequel to the original, despite the 4 in the title, lack of anybody involved with the original and, continuity errors it causes if Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is still canon. 9-year old Kevin McAllister is spending Christmas with his newly divorced father and his soon-to-be wife, who are barely in the house, as well as their staff – Mr. Prescott the butler and Molly the maid. When the house-owners are out during the day, Kevin fends off previous foe Harry and his new wife Vera, who have a secret accomplice working in the house. This was made specifically for TV, the first of the franchise to be so, and it feels like it. Barring the character names and concept of “hijinks to protect the house” there is very little to connect it to the IP. It was designed as a backdoor pilot for ABC, with the intention being that it would get picked up for a full series but this never happened and means that it feels like a Children’s TV show from the ABC network in the early 2000s.
There’s snappy editing galore and enough screen-wipes to make George Lucas proud, but it’s the pacing and script that do the most damage. Whilst the former installments took their time, allowing the audience to get familiar with the characters and their surroundings, this one just throws you into it. News of the divorce is shoehorned into dialogue within the first five minutes and the scenes rarely take place far from Mr. McAllister’s glorious mansion. Gone too are the softer lighting and barrage of Christmas colours, replaced with harsh studio-esque lighting and barely any decorations save for the tree. Then there’s the score. John Williams is a titan of the music industry and, even if he only composed for the original two, his influence can be felt in Nick Glennie-Smiths score for the third installment. Teddy Castellucci was brought in for Taking Back the House and he does a decent job for the task he was assigned but it doesn’t really hold a candle to previous installments.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing of value. Acting veterans Erick Avari and Barbara Babcock turn in solid performances as Prescott and Molly while Actor French Stewart takes over the role of Marv from Daniel Stern with as much energy as when he took over as Inspector Gadget from Matthew Broderick. It’s a zany, over-the-top performance but it fits the tone of the film and often provides a giggle. The dynamic he has with his wife Vera is also quite nice and it is funny watching him banter with Kevin like they’re old friends. Had this been a stand-alone film I doubt anyone really would have given it much notice but it does carry the Home Alone name. More than that, it features the original characters (for the most part, two of the McAllister children have vanished). As an early 2000s ABC production, it’s allowed to be tolerable but as a Home Alone film it needs to be more than that. The original is a Christmas classic alongside the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life and How The Grinch Stole Christmas despite being several decades newer than them. It has an inviting vibe and is simply drenched in the feelings of the season. The sequel managed to feel festive too and even the third one is an acceptably goofy comedy that appeals more to children than family’s. Taking Back the House feel corporate. It feels like a cash-grab designed to appeal to peoples nostalgia, without understanding why the IP works so well.
The film would fail to provide that TV series that the creative team hoped it would and it would take another decade before ABC would try again. That’s a pretty damning critique in itself and it’s hard not to agree with the sentiment. Honestly, trying to find the good in this film was difficult and it’s only a film that should be recommended to Home Alone completionists but that’s what we do here. No film is without merit, even if you have to dig deep to find it.
Besides, it doesn’t hurt to be a little kind at this time of year.
Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.