Friday, October 16, 2015

Where's the "Home Alone" Nostalgia?

Hey, Fathom Events is putting "Home Alone" back in theaters for its 25th anniversary!  Err, has it really been 25 years since "Home Alone"?  Anyway, its fans should be happy.  The kids who saw it in 1990 should be all grown up now, and primed for some nostalgia, like the "Back to the Future" fans.  "Home Alone" still has fans, right?  I mean, this was the highest grossing film of 1990, which held the top spot at the box office for three solid months, and was briefly the third highest grossing film of all time based on domestic numbers.  It spawned four sequels, two theatrical and two made for television, and turned child star Macaulay Culkin into a household name.

But curiously, I've hardly heard a peep about "Home Alone" in recent years.  It seems like everyone has seen it and treats it as a cultural touchstone, but it's not one of those movies that anyone is particularly bothered about if you reveal you haven't seen it.  "Hook," which came out roughly a year later, still has a large and vocal fanbase, particularly among viewers who were small boys at the time it was released.  You'd think that the same audience would have similarly fond memories for the antics of Kevin McAllister, but this doesn't seem to be the case.  A few interesting "Home Alone" related bits of media have popped up on the internet over the last few years, namely Grantland's "Did Kevin From ‘Home Alone’ Grow Up to Be Jigsaw? A Deadly Serious Investigation" piece and the Week's "Diagnosing the 'Home Alone' burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in" and related videos.  However, there's very little by way of the usual fanmade media, parodies, re-edits, mashups, or spoofs.  It's still referenced all the time, but the movie doesn't really seem to have made an impact on pop-culture aside from a few years of dodgy Macaulay Culkin vehicles and a spot on the regular rotation of Christmas movies.  And at the time of writing, as the studios are still busy mining every old franchise they can find for new hits, there is no "Home Alone" reboot in development.  That can't be right, can it?

But if you look into the aftermath of "Home Alone," it starts to make more sense.  The success of "Home Alone" was largely attributed to the precocious Macaulay Culkin, who the media latched on to immediately.  He became tabloid fodder for ages, with a notoriously difficult stage father, and his career as a child star fizzled after four years.  To be blunt about it, everybody got sick of him quickly. I remember a magazine article where a studio exec expressed relief that "Richie Rich" had bombed.  Culkin only appeared in a single "Home Alone" sequel, and though it did very well, nobody was clamoring for more.  FOX tried to continue the series without him a few years later, and it didn't work.  A reboot would probably be met with the same response, though I can still see one happening.  Also, keep in mind that the movie landscape has changed considerably since 1990.  Live action children's films aren't in high demand, and fewer and fewer of them are made each year.  Really, all PG rated films are scarce these days.

As for nostalgia for the film itself, that's trickier to account for.  I haven't seen any of the "Home Alone" movies in a long time, but I suspect a big issue is what the original has become associated with.  First, it's a Christmas movie, and while that means it's still regularly broadcast, people aren't likely to think much about "Home Alone" out of this context. Second, while I think it's aged fairly well, the movie is very much a '90s kids' movie with lots of slapstick and over-the-top humor.  I can get some chuckles out of it as an adult, but there's just not much to talk about beyond the Coyote v. Roadrunner mechanics of the story.  The characters are one-dimensional, the messages terribly simple, and there's a heavy dose of sentiment that most people forget.  The elaborate traps, that were considered unusually violent in 1990 - and thus a treat for chaos-hungry kids -  just seem silly today when the current generation of tots is watching "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent."

I also suspect that the unusual success of "Home Alone" had something to do with it never really developing a fanbase.  It's easier to champion mediocre movies like "The Iron Giant" and "Hocus Pocus," which were relative obscurities that needed championing, and fans could bond over their underdog status.  "Home Alone," however, permeated the popular culture to the point where it was assumed that you liked it if you were a certain age.  At the age of ten, I remember reading the kiddie novelization and being gifted the "Home Alone" board game, despite not having seen the movie.  At eleven, I remember thinking I knew way too much about Macaulay Culkin's life and career.  At twelve, I remember telling a friend that the volume of commercials for "Home Alone 2" was getting annoying.

And then, like all passing fads, suddenly "Home Alone" was gone.

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