Few films make people feel more festive than Home Alone.
But if you think you know exactly what to expect from the latest offering in the franchise (this is the sixth), you’re in for a surprise, according to Aisling Bea and Archie Yates.
As the two stars of Home Sweet Home Alone – available to watch on Disney+ – explain over Zoom, this is not a “reboot”, a “remake” or a “sequel”.
This is an “original story in the same universe”, says British actor Yates, 12, who you’ll recognise from the Oscar-winning film Jojo Rabbit.
“The characters are always written completely differently, they don’t look or sound the same,” adds Irish star Bea, 37.
“You’re looking at a totally new character to play, but you know there’s all the beats in there that people are going to love.”
Macaulay Culkin as clever, cheeky prankster Kevin McCallister in the first two Home Alone films – released in the early 1990s – remains iconic, and the leading role made the now-41-year-old a household name.
But Home Sweet Home Alone has more of a focus on the robbers than the kids – and they’re not straight-up-baddies. Instead, they’re actually good people who find themselves in a sticky situation.
The pair in question are parents Jeff and Pam McKenzie (played by Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper), who are stressed at the thought of Christmas; Jeff has lost his job and is facing the devastating prospect of having to sell the family home.
A possible solution turns up when they discover they actually own a family heirloom – an old doll – that is worth a lot of money.
But, during a house reception, the item goes missing, and Jeff and Pam believe the culprit is an irritating 10-year-old British boy named Max (Yates), who was at the house with his mother, Carol (Bea).
The McKenzies find out where Max lives and decide to get their stolen treasure back. But the kid is – you’ve guessed it – home alone, while his family is in Japan, and is determined to make their quest a tricky one.
In fact, total chaos ensues, as the couple face plenty of elaborate, nifty, and seemingly painful booby traps set up by mischievous Max.
It means arguably the most entertaining element of the original films remain; there’s lots of physical comedy, which the cast fully embraced.
“We got to try every stunt ourselves – except ones that were literally falling down a flight of stairs in one swoop, I didn’t do that,” quips Missouri-born Kemper, who’s known for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
“But we were very well trained. A team of pros from New Zealand helped us and we felt very safe, very prepared, and there were no injuries. I felt proud that we got to do as many stunts as we did.”
“I think the worst thing that happened in the whole movie, from an acting perspective, was the amount of baby powder that was doubling as flour and sugar,” recalls Catastrophe star Delaney, 44, who hails from Boston. “I never want to smell baby powder again.”
Excitable Yates definitely loved doing all of his own stunt work, too.
“Though it’s been very scary, it’s also been incredibly fun. We filmed one of the scenes in one of the montage clips where I ride an ironing board down the stairs. There were a couple of crashes, but I was OK.”
As for what he thought about his character, the youngster adds: “He is a horrible, bratty, really sarcastic and annoying child. As the film progresses, he turns a bit more kind, clever and funny, and a bit softer, which is nice.”
It sounds like Yates and Bea had a lovely relationship on set portraying their mother-son relationship.
“It feels weird to say that I got along really well with a 10-year-old because you think, ‘am I immature or a weirdo?’ but we really did get on well,” says Bea, who created and stars in the Channel 4 comedy This Way Up.
“He’s so kind and warm and quite like his character in how intelligent he is, but maybe his character is missing Archie’s natural kindness, which is why I love him.”
Both Kemper and Delaney have young families. So, how does it feel to be able to make something that their kids can watch with them?
“I’ve made a lot of stuff that’s more appropriate for adults, and to exercise the muscles that entertain kids as well is great,” enthuses Delaney. “You just feel like you have a sort of a bigger toolkit. And also, you can’t really fake it with kids, so it’s really good to exist in that realm.”
“You’re so right – they don’t laugh at something that isn’t funny,” adds Kemper. “My kids, the older one is five, and I’m like, I don’t know if it’s weird to see your mum on television or whatever. But maybe I’m actually just scared; what if he doesn’t laugh?”
Pleasing their greatest critics aside, the other potential pressure on the cast is how to live up to Home Alone fans’ expectations.
But viewers will be delighted to hear that the new film pays homage to the original in several places. Devin Ratray, who played Kevin’s mean older brother, Buzz, has a small role as a police officer called to Max’s house; there are samples of the much-loved original score by John Williams; and we even get to hear what Kevin is up to as an adult, thanks to Buzz.
Delaney acknowledges it’s “an incredible privilege and an incredible thrill” to be part of a film series that’s so famous – but says he tried not to overthink it during the shoot.
“I would have to forget that sentiment and try to stuff it away in the corner of my mind so that I could try to do my job,” he elaborates.
“On a day-to-day basis, we were just trying to be the best thieves and the best parents that we could be and let that drive us.
“We knew that we were but a piece of the puzzle, and the way that we could contribute to making the film the best that it could be would just be trying to get that doll back from that terrible little boy.”
Home Sweet Home Alone is available to watch now on Disney+.