Franchises should take risks. The inevitability of mediocrity looms large, and every franchise ever created is an example of how to keep audiences engaged. The Fast and Furious films pivoted from being serious and character-driven to over-the-top heist movies. Doctor Who recasts the show, including production teams, every few years. So how do sequels the beloved Christmas classic Home Alone go about this? The original, about young Kevin McCallister protecting his house from 2 bumbling criminals, is small-scale whilst the sequel, Lost in New York, turns the tables by having them face off again in a larger location that neither side know well. The third installment… is a James Bond film.
Home Alone 3 had initially been pitched as a direct successor to Lost in New York and was due to be produced at the same time, however, this idea never came to fruition. A second pitch was concocted in the mid-1990s and would see a teenage Kevin once again defending his home from Harry and Marv but Macauly Culkin had retired from acting after 1994’s Richie Rich. This was, in large part, due to issues surrounding his family, career, and earnings. His father had been abusive, forcing Macauly into acting at a young age and, although he found himself enjoying it, he soon grew tired of it. On top of this, he was being kept from his financial earnings, although that was easily rectified with Macauly removing his parents’ names from his Trust Fund and hiring an executor. Simultaneously, a court battle was taking place between the Culkin parents, who had never married, over the custody of their children. None of this would prevent 20th Century Fox from plowing ahead with the Home Alone 3 which was finally released in 1997.
The story follows 8-year-old Alex Pruitt who is left home by himself with chickenpox while his siblings go to school and his parents work. He finds himself in possession of a remote-controlled car that contains a $10 million military missile-cloaking microchip which is being hunted down by an infamous terrorist organisation. 4 members in particular conspicuously move into Alex’s street to systematically check each house on the block, however, Alex keeps track of them and is constantly calling the police. At its centre, this is a spin on The Boy Who Cried Wolf but it never fully follows through on this premise, with Alex eventually catching the criminals and being hailed as a hero.
What’s interesting is this film’s relationship with the original Home Alone as it’s left unclear as to whether or not this takes place in the same continuity. The previous events and characters are never mentioned but the Pruitt’s house is in the same Chicago suburbs as the McCallisters. It’s a clever way of handling continuity as it allows for the film to be totally ignored by those who hate it and provide a smooth transition to those who like it. That said, home Alone 3 is noticeably similar to the original. Both feature an 8-year-old with a lovable, smartass personality whilst being a little wiser than their years. However, whilst Kevin has an adorable charm, Alex comes across as slightly obnoxious. On top of this, they are each part of a family that doesn’t treat them well. Whilst Kevin is in a house with 13 other people, almost being ignored and struggling to make his voice heard, Alex has 2 siblings who treat him like garbage with parents who allow that behavior but don’t participate in it. The elderly neighbour also makes an appearance in the form of the crotchety Mrs. Hess who can’t hold a candle to Old Man Murphy. She isn’t a bad character, she’s an utter delight when she’s on-screen, but she doesn’t really go through an arc or add to the plot in any meaningful way like Murphy did.
The major difference is the villains. Harry and Marv are a classic slapstick duo who only interact with Kevin and provide a minor threat. Home Alone 3 has 4 terrorists who are a global threat and are implied to be ready to murder this child. Their comeuppance is fun, but it sets the stakes way too high and requires a much larger suspension of disbelief than 2 bumbling burglars. These are professional villains, yet they are easily bested by an 8-year-old who has an evening to prepare. The traps themselves are highly creative, close to lethal at times, especially the lawnmower which is a neat holdover from the novelisation of Lost in New York. Perhaps the largest issue is how cartoonish they are, which was a large complaint with Lost in New York, and which is amplified here.
The cartoonish aspects are what keep Home Alone 3 an entertaining film, as opposed to less than average. The plot is oversized and features over-the-top acting which makes for the weakest installment so far but it still amuses the audience for an hour and a half. There was definitely a capacity for it to over-rely on nostalgia but with new characters and a fresh score, it’s clear this wasn’t the direction the studio wanted to go down.
At least, not yet.
Until Next Time…