“About four years ago, I got a call from my agent saying they were thinking of rebooting, remaking, reimagining Home Alone,” recalled Home Sweet Home Alone director Dan Mazer. “They asked if I was interested in pitching to write the script. I just told them, ‘Absolutely not. That’s a terrible idea. Why would I want to do that?’”
One of the greatest holiday movies of all time, Home Alone, grossed $476.7 million against an $18 million budget and was nominated for an Oscar. It also became a pop culture phenomenon and made a star out of Macaulay Culkin.
Home Sweet Home Alone, which has premiered on Disney+, sees Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney as two parents trying to retrieve a valuable heirloom they think a boy, Archie Yates’s Max Mercer, has taken from them. Max is, of course, home alone.
I caught up with Mazer to discuss what changed that made Home Sweet Home Alone a movie he wanted to make, the struggle to find a great Christmas song for the soundtrack, and who he was starstruck by on set.
Simon Thompson: Do you remember seeing the original Home Alone for the first time? It’s one of those movies that, when you’re young, has an impact.
Dan Mazer: So here’s the thing. I do remember seeing it for the first time and thinking, ‘Yeah, I liked that.’ It was around the time I was in college, I don’t know where I was in my life exactly, but I may have been somewhere like the bar in the ADC Theatre in Cambridge. I liked it, but I didn’t get the phenomenon of it. Cut to 25 or 30 years later, and I have a daughter who is so obsessed with the movie to a level where it is almost impossible to comprehend how many times she has watched it. I will ask her, ‘Okay, what should we watch today? Do you want to watch Jumanji?’ and she’ll say, ‘No, I want to watch Home Alone,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Again? For the 30th time?’ We might be having a birthday party, and it will be June, so I’ll suggest we watch maybe Aladdin, and she’ll be like, ‘No, I want to watch Home Alone.’ My daughter became utterly obsessed with it, at which point I then became much more of an admirer. When the opportunity came along where they asked me if I wanted to direct it, it seemed like fate or kismet. Also, I know my daughter would never forgive me if I didn’t. I see the original Home Alone more through my daughter’s eyes than my own original viewing of it.
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Thompson: So what went through your head when you got this job? Any job comes with its own concerns, but this is something widely beloved and important to your daughter.
Mazer: About four years ago, I got a call from my agent saying they were thinking of rebooting, remaking, reimagining Home Alone. They asked if I was interested in pitching to write the script. I just told them, ‘Absolutely not. That’s a terrible idea. Why would I want to do that?’ I couldn’t think of anything that would improve on what there was, and I just thought it was a fool’s errand. It went away, I forgot about it, then two years later I got a call from my agent saying, ‘Are you interested in directing a new Home Alone?’ That was the point where I thought, ‘Okay, send me the script,’ but I was really just interested to see what somebody had thought of as an idea. When I heard that Streeter Seidell and Mikey Day were writing it, two head writers of Saturday Night Live, I was just like, ‘Okay, that could be interesting.’ They’re brilliant. I’m a real fan of their work. The script arrived, and I just thought it was fantastic. I loved it. It felt fresh, relevant, new, and liked that it paid homage to the original but existed on its own terms. At that point, you don’t think forward 18 months to the point where the world sees it, and people say that we don’t need another Home Alone. You risk becoming a sort of social pariah for having somehow ruined their childhood by daring to make a new version. The bottom line is I liked the movie, and I wanted to go and make it. We’re not going to burn every copy of the original film, say that can’t exist, or you can’t watch that one as well. Marvel has a universe, and DC has a universe, so why can’t Home Alone have a universe where that movie exists, and this movie exists independently. I think when Home Sweet Home Alone came along, I wasn’t quite as aware of how beloved and esteemed the original was to people. At the same time, I think there was a really good script that I wanted to go off and make because I felt I could make a good movie.
Thompson: Home Sweet Home Alone has plenty of nods to and references from the original and lots of winks to other movies like Scarface. Was that something that came from you, or was that in the script?
Mazer: Yes, well spotted. I think it was all of us. I think what attracted me to it was the idea of doing something that felt a little bit iconoclastic, but I could take some of the spirit of the stuff that I’ve done before, which has always been more towards the riskier and edgier side of things and bring that to this franchise. The Holy Grail for a movie like this is to create something that kids can watch and identify with Max, played by Archie Yates, who’s the kid in this, but that adults will sit down and watch and identify with Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney’s characters as parents. Some of our touches will go over the heads of kids but will hopefully resonate with older audiences.
Thompson: Music is a big part of holiday movies. John Williams’ score was so iconic in Home Alone, and the songs from the film also worked brilliantly. There’s a scene in Home Sweet Home Alone where you use my favorite festive tune of mine, Christmas All Over by Tom Petty. How much time did you spend agonizing over getting the right Christmas song to include?
Mazer: That’s the trouble. Christmas songs are just so familiar. Even now, we’re walking into shops, and you hear a festive track, and it immediately resonates and takes you back to something either nostalgic and inspirational or saccharine, and you’re almost allergic to it. It’s about finding that balance and finding something new. It’s tough to find anything new that is decent. There was a conversation at the beginning that was instantly dismissed where it was suggested we could just update everything and do hip hop versions of Christmas classics or maybe someone all the kids are listening to now, and we were like, ‘No, you don’t want that.’ When Tom Petty came along, it felt it had the right spirit to it, it had the right energy to it, and even though I’d heard it, it wasn’t overly familiar. The idea of Tom Petty doing a Christmas song is kind of genius and brilliant in itself. That track was a real discovery.
Thompson: Another connection to the original Home Alone is Buzz, played by Devin Ratray. Was he always in the script? Was it a case of persuading him to come back?
Mazer: He was always in the script, and it was so brilliant and genius. The fear was that you never know how people respond to something that they’ve been renowned for 30 years on. It could be a real albatross around his neck, or it could have been something that he was incredibly proud of. We didn’t really know. First of all, we had to check that he wasn’t dead. Fortunately, he wasn’t and actually has an impressive film career. He’s been in things like Nebraska and Blue Ruin. We also had to check that he wasn’t fed up with Buzz. We also had to check that he wouldn’t charge us something like $900 million for a day’s work, but he wasn’t. He came along and was fantastic, and he entered into the spirit of it. I think he loved revisiting the character and was this font of enthusiasm and ideas and wanting to throw himself into it. I’ve been fortunate to, you know, to meet and work with many eminent people, but I was slightly starstruck by him. I sat on the set and thought to myself, ‘Oh my God! It’s Buzz, and he’s being Buzz.’ That was a sort of magical moment, actually.
Thompson: Well, maybe for a sequel, Keiran Culkin’s character, Fuller McCallister, can come back? It would finally be the Home Alone and Succession crossover we have all been waiting for.
Mazer: (Laughs) I would love that. Or maybe we could just have his Succession character, Roman Roy, home alone and see what happens. Can you imagine?
Home Sweet Home Alone is on Disney+ now.