On Nov. 12, Disney+ will release its big Christmas movie, “Home Sweet Home Alone,” a reboot of the hit “Home Alone” film franchise starting Macaulay Culkin.
While the premise is similar — a young boy is inadvertently left home alone by his family over Christmas and all manner of mayhem ensues — the spin-off takes several steps sideways, turning key plot points on their heads.
The cast of 20th Century Studios’ “Home Sweet Home Alone” are occasionally turned on their heads, too, as perceived villains, Pam and Jeff McKenzie, played by Ellie Kemper (“The Office,” “Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt”) and Rob Delaney (“Deadpool 2,” “Catastrophe”) attempt to retrieve a stolen heirloom doll, whose worth could save them from selling their family home.
And it’s up to bratty Max Mercer, played by Archie Yates (“JoJo Rabbit”), to put his 10-year-old brain to work toward stopping them from entering his house, where he is, of course, home alone. After all, he’s the one who stands accused of having stolen the doll.
Kemper, Delaney, and Yates were joined by Irish actress and comedian Aisling Bea (“Living with Yourself”), who plays Max’s mother Carol, and Ally Maki (“Toy Story 4”), cast as Jeff’s eternally optimistic sister-in-law, Mei, for a press conference prior to the film’s debut.
Kemper and Delaney’s roles were physically demanding, they admitted, much in the same vein as the Wet Bandits from the original series.
“We started stunt training well before we started shooting, thank goodness,” Delaney said, “and we were really required to do most of the stunts in the film. Yes, professional stunt people did them as well, and if we did a bad job they edited them in. They really put us through the paces, which, frankly, was shocking to me, because I thought I’d have to dip in for a humorous rejoinder now and then.”
Kemper agreed, saying, “I hadn’t done anything like that before. It was challenging, but also funny and athletic.”
The deterrents Max sets up for the McKenzies are often brutal — Delaney went so far as to call them “torture” — but the comedic touch he and Kemper brought to their characters’ mission made some of the stunts decidedly humorous.
“The things that happen to our characters are truly horrible,” Delaney said. “In terms of the film ‘Home Alone,’ we wanted that real danger to be a part of what we were doing. It was easy to do, because you’ve got projectiles headed at your skull at hundreds of miles an hour, falling from great heights, actual fire and ice. Just making sure that the real peril was a part of this story was important to us.”
yates had big snow boots to fill in his parallel role to Macaulay’s Kevin McCallister. “I did take a lot of inspiration from the original ‘Home Alone’ movies,” he said. “I’ve religiously watched them every year at Christmas. It was pretty easy for me to relate, but then again, Max Mercer is supposed to be a completely different character to Kevin McCallister, so while I did want it to be the classic ‘Aaaaahhhhh!’ [recalling Kevin’s cheek-slapping yell after applying Brut after-shave lotion], I also wanted it to be more original, and different, because that’s what this film is all about. It’s the same universe, but a completely different story.”
Bea shared a classic moment from the original story that she was eager to incorporate. “For me, it was the emotional moment of seeing your son again. That moment at the door – because you get such a feeling from that moment.”
For Maki, it was the hijinks. “We all grew up on this movie, and just seeing the booby traps being set — I think we all wanted to have a booby trap house.”
One way the movie flips the script on the original is that, ultimately, the line between “villain” and “hero” is blurred. Kemper, one-half of the married burglar duo, spoke about the dichotomy. “Our mission was one inspired by goodness. Our motives were good. We wanted to save our family.”
“There is a bit of a change in the balance of evil versus good,” Bea agreed. “In Home Alone 1 and 2, you were very aware of who was bad and who was good. This time around, you can sort of understand the burglars; where are they coming from emotionally.”
Devin Ratray, who played bullying Buzz McCallister in “Home Alone,” is also a key figure in the new movie, and Yates was a bit star-struck by the iconic character. “The one day I worked with him, he was so cool. He was strangely awesome. I was actually nervous at first, because I thought I was looking at a god.”
With the likes of naively honest Yorki in “JoJo Rabbit” and the voice of Sprout in the animated television series “Wolfboy and the Everything Factory” under his belt, what does Yates aspire to do next? “All of the stuff that I’ve been in has been comedy, and comedy is one of my favorite genres. But as much as I do love comedy and being part of hilarious family films, I do realize now that I can do so much more. As of now, I’m trying to explore different genres, like drama. But that’s not the only thing. I also want to be a director, and I’ve recently starting writing my own scripts.”
Having voiced Giggles McDimples in “Toy Story 4,” and Mini Hess in Marvel’s “Cloak & Dagger”, Maki admits she also has another Disney acting credit in mind. “I feel like I’m working towards that trifecta, like if you do Marvel, Pixar […] I feel like I’m close, so maybe something in Star Wars.”
Were there any movie-magic secrets that stuck with the actors? Kemper remembers one of Max’s slapstick traps that was unleased on the pair. “The flour that’s all over the floor when Max hits [Rob] with a flour sack was actually baby powder, and the man who was administering the baby powder — we loved him as a person, but our enemy professionally, because he just kept adding gallons and gallons of baby powder to the day.”
“Any time he approached with his baby powder sack, we would look at each other and just growl,” Delaney added. “I never want to smell it again.”
Possibly the most startling, if hilarious, confession came from Kemper, who admitted she may have taken something from the set. “When we shut down for COVID on March 13, 2020, I took a lot of toilet paper. I did. Because we had it in spades, and I took it with me.”
At the good-natured urging of her fellow actors, she promised to return it, but added, in true comedic style, “Does it matter if it’s used?”
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