Traditions are a crucial part of holiday celebrations around the globe. Whether dining with family members we rarely see outside of the season or decorating the Christmas tree, nostalgia plays an important role when considering how holidays have changed over time.
One particular tradition has stood out throughout contemporary history because its popularity seems to transcend generations—watching the same classic Christmas films every year.
Some might prefer watching one of the many adaptations of A Christmas Carol, while others will opt for It’s a Wonderful Life; however, there is no denying that everyone watches at least some parts of “Home Alone” each Christmas season.
How is it that seeing Macaulay Culkin screaming to the camera and torturing two thieves can fill us with holiday joy? Why do so many people watch this movie repeatedly during their annual viewing of Christmas movies? How did such an unassuming little film become so famous among both children and adults? And what exactly makes “Home Alone” the greatest Christmas movie of all time? There’s an answer to all of these questions, and it all comes down to how masterfully “Home Alone” captures the themes of the season and – most importantly – what makes us nostalgic during Christmas time.
A Christmas Wish
Even though the reason why Kevin McCallister is left home alone during Christmas is due to sheer negligence, for most of the film, the boy believes that he’s left alone due to some sort of strange Christmas miracle.
While this has almost no bearing on the plot, it does have an effect on “Home Alone”‘s desired audience: kids. Having the house for themselves sounds like a wish any kid would have, as long as they could avoid almost any responsibility that comes with living alone.
This spirit of cheerful escapism permeates the whole film, and it affects not just the younger moviegoers: adults too can be entranced by the prospect of being left alone for a few days. “Home Alone” speaks to the kid inside every one of us on a subconscious level, making anyone who watches the film instantly relate to Kevin and his antics, no matter the viewer’s age or cultural background.
It might be that “Home Alone” is one of the very few holiday films that truly understand how to evoke the feelings that Christmas brings about. Nostalgia for simpler times and magic in the most unsuspected places – that’s what Christmas miracles are all about.
Laughs for All
At first glance, the idea of “Home Alone” might seem like that of a kids’ movie. A young boy without parents for the holidays fends off against a duo of absent-minded criminals – we’ve seen that story done many times before, even in the much less popular “Home Alone” sequels. But what makes this movie so enjoyable for viewers of any age? The answer might be found in the film’s humor.
Sure, “Home Alone” is a flick for all ages, but the humor and some of the more emotional moments speak to a wide audience. While kids might find Kevin‘s traps and Looney Tunes-style antics more entertaining, adults can also appreciate the slapstick nature of the movie. Some scenes are genuinely hilarious, especially those involving Harry and Marv.
Still, anyone can appreciate the moments when “Home Alone” leans a bit more into its dark comedy aspects. Scenes like the one where Kevin uses an old movie to scare off thieves and a pizza delivery boy, not to mention some of the traps that are borderline deathtraps from Saw, are just the edgy type of content that makes this movie so enjoyable for any kind of audience.
These moments when “Home Alone” crosses the line and becomes a straight-up torture extravaganza are also forms of escapism. After all, violence in films has always been a touchy subject with the more puritan critics – so just imagine their reactions when they saw that a kids’ film – a Christmas film, no less – had such dangerous stunts. Perhaps it was the lack of CGI, and how believable some of the more painful moments seem, that made the film endure the test of time, while some other films from the period seem severely dated by comparison.
Attention to Detail
Directed by Chris Columbus, “Home Alone” is no mere Christmas flick. The process of filming the movie was much more complex than one might think. More than just overseeing the dangerous stunts or making sure that a room full of child actors would listen to instructions, Columbus was determined to turn “Home Alone” into an unforgettable Christmas event.
Nearly every aspect of the film was designed to evoke nostalgia. From the set dressings to the temperature of the lights, the overall “soul” of “Home Alone” feels just like that of an old postcard.
One area where “Home Alone” truly shines is in its cinematography. It might seem as if the film is just another archetypical early 90s kids flick, but Columbus and his team really went the extra mile here to make the film seem as if it was seen from the eyes of a young kid.
While everyone has noticed how large the McCallister‘s house is, it appears much larger once Kevin is left by himself. Long hallways and tall ceilings are accentuated as much as possible to help audiences feel as if they’re seeing everything from Kevin‘s point of view.
Lighting was also designed to evoke a feeling of nostalgia mixed with a certain sadness – just as it happens with Christmas time itself. In the rare moments when Kevin ventures outside of his home, the camera stays as close to his line of view as possible, making the adults feel like these monolithic authority figures, living in a world outside of Kevin‘s.
All of these technical feats might be part of the reason why the first “Home Alone” turned out as successful as it was. It became a box-office success in 1990, the year it was released, beating cinematic gems such as “Pretty Woman” and “Total Recall”.
A movie that retains its meaning and magic even to this day, the popularity of “Home Alone” might be seen as yet another form of escapism. We love the film because it serves as a window to a simpler time – a time when Christmas was all about the fun and magic, leaving aside the problems and worries for just a month each year.
Is it the best Christmas movie ever made? Some might argue that it isn’t, but I firmly believe that there’s no other holiday film as engaging or as timeless as “Home Alone”, and the fact that so many people think the same might explain why “Home Alone” remains the most popular Christmas movie ever made.