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'Home Alone': Why it's a holiday classic

Yes, the slapstick antics of actors Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are great. But the story's deeper message about family gives the movie its heart.

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    'Home Alone' stars Macaulay Culkin.
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Since its release in 1990, the movie “Home Alone,” starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, and Daniel Stern, has become a holiday staple.

The movie follows Kevin McCallister (Culkin), a young boy who is accidentally left behind when his family leaves on vacation. After he discovers that inept burglars are trying to get inside his house, he decides to do anything he can to foil them.

So right now you’re picturing Harry (Pesci) getting covered in feathers and Marv (Stern) having a tarantula dropped on him, aren’t you? The last section of the movie, in which the two criminals must make their way through the house and contend with the various traps Kevin has created for them (don’t set up a blowtorch at home, kids), is what most people remember about the movie. I’m certainly not against it – I laugh as hard as anyone when Stern slips on the ice. Again.

Recommended: The 20 best Christmas movies of all time – readers' picks

However, the reason “Home Alone” makes perfect viewing for the holidays is a subplot in the script written by John Hughes, he who directed and wrote such endlessly quotable ‘80s movies as “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” As with another holiday classic, 1989’s “Christmas Vacation,” Hughes wrote but did not direct “Home.” (The director is Chris Columbus of "Mrs. Doubtfire" and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”) In addition to Kevin’s hijinks with the bumbling thieves, he runs into a neighbor, named only by Kevin’s brother Buzz (Devin Ratray) as “Old Man Marley” (Roberts Blossom). Buzz scares his younger brother with stories about the elderly man being a murderer, causing Kevin to flee from his neighbor whenever he encounters him. But when Kevin meets Marley at church, Marley reveals he’s not a bad guy, and is in fact going through some problems of his own. He is estranged from his son but longs to see his him and his wife and daughter. He tells Kevin he would call but fears his son will refuse to talk to him. 

“Aren’t you a little old to be afraid?” Kevin asks. 

“You can be a little old for a lot of things,” his neighbor replies. “You're never too old to be afraid.”

But Kevin encourages him to give his son a call, even if his son won’t pick up. “At least you’ll know,” he says. “Then you can stop worrying about it.”

The conversation is soon forgotten as Kevin goes to face off with the thieves. But the last part of the movie isn’t Kevin’s father Peter (John Heard) finding Harry’s gold tooth on the floor of their house. It’s when Kevin turns to the window and sees Marley hugging his granddaughter, having made up with his son. The two exchange a wave before they go enjoy their respective Christmases. (The movie does get in one more moment of humor when Buzz shouts at Kevin about Kevin's destruction of his room.)

I will probably never get tired of Pesci and Stern swinging on a rope, but it’s the movie’s heartfelt message about family that keeps me coming back to “Home Alone.”

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