Every family has its holiday traditions. For as long as I can remember, my family tradition has been to argue over which movie to watch at my aunt’s house on Christmas Eve. Now if you’re imagining me as the oldest cousin, this might seem kind of cute, but I’m actually the youngest cousin, and we’re all in our 20s and 30s, so it’s kind of weird. The cousins who grew up as kids of the 80s always push for A Christmas Story (1983), while the kids of the 90s, which include me and my siblings, lobby for Home Alone (1990) or Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). In the years that the 90s kids win (which is most years) there’s still the debate over which of the John Hughes classics to watch. That is, which one we’ll quote incessantly and speculate how many times over Joe Pesci would have died if any of this had been real.
I’m not here to argue that the Home Alones aren’t two of the greatest Christmas movies ever made, because in my opinion, they are. The McCallister family is crazy and dysfunctional enough to be believable, the physical humor is unparalleled, and it’s one of the only kids Christmas movies that has virtually no mention of Santa, which is indescribably refreshing.
The two movies, however, have nearly identical plots. Young Kevin McCallister, the black sheep of the family, is accidentally left behind as his ritzy family jets off for a Christmas vacation. Two idiot burglars, Harry and Marv, try to burgle things. Kevin terrorizes said burglars with a series of hilarious booby traps. And finally, Kevin is reunited with his family that still doesn’t appreciate him as much as they should.
So how can we differentiate the films and pick a clear winner? I could go on for days pointing about the best parts of each film, but I’ve narrowed the field down to five comparable categories in hopes that you’ll stick with me:
Creepy Old People Turned Mentors
Aside from Harry and Marv, Kevin also has to be terrified of some misunderstood old folk who are initially frightening in appearance, but end up saving Kevin’s life.
Home Alone: Old Man Marley aka Boo Radley aka Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States reincarnate. He’s the creepy next door neighbor and alleged “South Bend Shovel Slayer” who turns out just to be a lonely grandfather. The closing scene of the movie shows the old guy reconnecting with his family (all thanks to Kevin) and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t get me every time.
Home Alone 2: Pigeon Lady. They don’t even try to give this poor woman a name, she’s just the depressed homeless woman who lives in Central Park. She and Kevin have a nice talk about love, and it adds another true-meaning-of-Christmas element to the plot, but when Kevin goes back to suburban life in that massive house and pigeon lady is left still homeless and lonely, I’m always left sad, and not in the good way.
Score: HA = 1, HA2 = 0
Home Alone: The first movie introduces what I would call the “theme song” of the franchise, “Somewhere in my Memory”, which makes you all kinds of nostalgic. It also has the quintessential Brenda Lee “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” scene where Kevin gets his Michael Jordan cardboard cutout to dance around the house and makes us all wonder why we weren’t all that ingenious as 8 year-olds. Not much can beat that.
Home Alone 2: Not much, except of course, the incredible HA2 CD that includes absolute bangers like “Alone Alone on Christmas” by Darlene Love and “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Oh, and let’s not forget the song at the Christmas pageant, “My Christmas Tree” where that one kid tries way to hard. Classic.
Score: HA = 1; HA2 = 1
Home Alone: John Candy as Gus Polinski aka Polka Polka Polka man. John Candy was a gift to comedy that we didn’t deserve. It’s said that he ad-libbed most of the scene he shares with Catherine O’Hara in the back of his Polka van when he talks about leaving his son in a funeral home that one time (“he was okay after 6 or 7 weeks…kids are resilient like that.”)
Home Alone 2: Donald Trump as himself. This honestly isn’t worth getting into, but even if the cameo was done by someone else, John Candy still would’ve won by a landslide.
Score: HA = 2; HA2 =1
Angels with Filthy Souls Recording
I can’t overstate that these movies are essentially the same, but hey, if it ain’t broke…
Home Alone: Naturally, when you’re an 8 year-old with the house to yourself, you’re going to watch an R-rated black and white movie about gangsters, right? Kevin hilariously uses the movie’s dialogue to converse with the pizza delivery boy (“keep the change, ya filthy animal”) and later to scare away the bad guys. Good stuff, good stuff.
Home Alone 2: I don’t even think Harry and Marv would’ve fallen for this trick again, but the staff at the Plaza Hotel (a godsend to the film) sure does. The Angels with Even Filthier Souls scene leaves me cackling harder than McCauley Culkin as it sends Tim Curry and Company into an idiotic hysteria.
Score: HA = 2; HA2 = 2
Home Alone: The pranks in the first film are, if I may, child’s play. Honestly, I think there are too many cringe-inducing pranks that involve the the piercing of Marv’s feet (ornaments, the nail) for it to be funny. My personal favorite prank in this movie would have to be the loose tarantula that crawls on Harry and causes Marv to beat his partner-in-crime with a crowbar, but this wasn’t really even a prank at all, just an (un)happy coincidence.
Home Alone 2: Oh, where do I begin? Kevin has a new, more dangerous playground in this movie – his uncle’s New York City townhouse that’s under renovation – that allows for some serious scheming. The tool chest falling down the stairs can’t be overlooked, but possibly my favorite comedy scene *ever* is the brick throwing scene. Unfortunately, it’s often cut from the TV version, so incase you’re unfamiliar with it, Kevin drops 4 bricks from a rooftop before the bad guys think to move – oh, and did I mention they all hit Marv? Really, this movie is unbeatable.
Score: HA = 2; HA2 = 3
So there you have it. Home Alone 2 has joined my exclusive list of “Sequels that are Better than the Original” alongside The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, and Shrek 2. If you only have time to watch one this Christmas season, watch the second one. But really, watch both. Also, if you are wondering why Home Alone 3 and 4 (??) were not considered for this thoughtful analysis, I sincerely hope you get coal for Christmas.
Merry Christmas ya filthy animals…and a Happy New Year!