The great thing about Christmas is you can do it exactly the same as you did last time, every single year. Case in point: 1992's Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is basically and openly the same movie as 1990's megahit Home Alone. The main difference is that writer John Hughes and director Chris Columbus moved the setting from a Chicago suburb to Manhattan.
Once again, Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is separated from his family and takes it upon himself to violently fend off a pair of crooks who are out to get him (Joe Pesci's and Daniel Stern's Harry and Marv were previously known as the Wet Bandits; now they are the Sticky Bandits). At the film's climax, he tortures them with the system of traps and guaranteed pratfalls that is, by now, his signature. Again, they improbably survive. The movie recycles the first installment's various minor gags with little variation, too. There are jokes about cousin Fuller's piss problem, another malfunctioning alarm clock, more of the same ruses proving that 10-year-old Kevin is way smarter than any adult he encounters, a terrifying old person with a heart of gold (Pesci's fellow Oscar winner, Brenda Fricker as the Pigeon Lady), new excuses for Kevin to bellow that now-famous scream, and a lovely cheese pizza. The second movie's box of ornaments is hung in virtually the same configuration as it was last time. It's all supposed to look just as charming.
When parents Peter (John Heard) and Kate (Catherine O'Hara, whose terrible haircut is among the most drastic changes in this sequel) discuss their lost son with the police in Miami, Kate jokingly refers to vacationing without their now-10-year-old as "a McCallister family tradition." And so it is: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York vividly illustrates the mind-numbing that comes from our traditions, the repetition that plays such a major role in our culture. It's not just in its content, but in the way audiences ate it up: 2 earned $100 million less than its predecessor ($285 million), but it still made $173 million. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $284 million, which would place it at No. 4 on 2012's cumulative chart.
Christmas' status as a secular holiday has far eclipsed its religious importance, as far as the broader culture is concerned. This is why Santa Claus, bearer of gifts, and not Jesus Christ, savior of humanity, is the holiday's symbol. Commercialism is why a Xerox like Home Alone 2 gets made in the first place and, what's more, the movie has its very own Santa. He's a creepily gentle elderly man named Mr. Duncan (Eddie Bracken) who runs the F.A.O. Schwartz-like toy store Duncan's Toy Chest. We hear that "children bring him a lot of joy." We see that his face lights up like someone's playing with his asshole when he says, "Turtle doves."
The cynical approach in which John Hughes tore and unimaginatively assembled Home Alone 2 from the same cloth as Home Alone honestly reflects the season's real cultural importance: mindless escapism and capitalism. This is cinema, regifted, and it all comes down to presents: though the family had fled to New York by the film's end, present-less, Christmas is saved thanks to the generosity of Mr. Duncan. With a pile of gifts, our happy ending is ensured.
Released alongside a shitpile of merch—activity books, lunchboxes, a GameBoy game, and trading cards—Home Alone 2 only became more of a commercial over time. The Talkboy cassette recorder that Kevin uses to capture and manipulate his voice so that he sounds like a pilled-up child molester, fooling at least one stupid adult in the process, was originally a dummy prop that a supposedly fan-driven letter-writing campaign prompted Tiger Electronics to manufacture for the masses. It became the hot toy of the following Christmas, perfectly coinciding with Home Alone 2's VHS release.
Dispassion was all around this beloved holiday flick. It's one big sigh over having to endure those familiar faces and rituals all over again. In late November, John Anderson sat down with a career-prime Culkin for the L.A. Times. Just 12 years old, Culkin was as miserable as a sulking brat by the Christmas tree:
Is dealing with the media harder this time around? "Kinda."
What do you do when you're not making movies? "I do this."
You look tired. "Kinda."
You live near here? "Kinda."
The piece closed on a high note:
"I am having so much fun," he says in a monotone. "I swear."
Invoking virtually every unpleasant aspect of Christmas, this movie was the starched collar Culkin wore in church as he counted down the seconds until he could be back to his new presents.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York made it clear that nobody had learned anything worthwhile. Big brother Buzz was still a bully weirdo with a flair for oddball description (he refers to Kevin as a "trout sniffer"). The crooks still didn't realize that they shouldn't mess with a kid on Christmas and that "a kid always wins against two idiots." Peter and Kate still didn't realize that their child is a diabolical, potential sociopath who possibly had a hand in inspiring the torture porn genre over a decade before it thrived. Kevin had learned to set his own alarm, but he was still distracted easily enough to end up following the wrong white dude with puffy hair and a three-quarter-length coat, and then board a plane to the wrong city. The movie speaks to the way a tangible passage of time can seem like no time at all, a phenomenon I've felt on several Christmases. (Really? This again?) Wherever you go, there you are, home alone, even if you aren't home.