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The stay-at-home dad: Kids pit ‘Home Alone’ against ‘A Christmas Story’

by TYLER WILSON/Coeur Voice contributor
| December 19, 2020 1:00 AM

A Christmas classic for one kid can be a complete bore for another.

As a parent who loves movies, it’s infuriating to hear some of the reasons why my kids don’t like certain classics.

The number one complaint: “It looks old!”

They prefer CGI animation over hand-drawn. They like stories about “modern” kids with constant Internet access and cool technology. Their favorite show? Some random kid’s YouTube channel (I refuse to even mention it by name).

As my kids get older, I hope to teach them some better ways to measure quality. My boys especially need some new strategies. Right now, “cool fighting” seems to be the only important metric. Actually, I still like cool fighting.

Last weekend we decided to watch two certifiable Christmas classics - “Home Alone” and “A Christmas Story.” These were two of my favorites growing up. I saw “Home Alone” in a movie theater at least four times back in 1990, and my dad made sure the family watched “A Christmas Story” together every year.

To my shock, “A Christmas Story” was a complete dud for my kids this year. After 10 minutes or so, all four of them found something else to do. I kept dragging my two oldest kids back into the room for certain scenes - the frozen pole, the Santa encounter, Aunt Clara’s deranged Easter bunny costume, etc.

Shrugs all around. My 9-year-old daughter thought Ralphie’s bunny costume was cute and didn’t understand why he was so mad about it. The BB gun didn’t matter to any of them, either.

“Didn’t they have iPads back then?”

On the other hand, my kids had a blast with “Home Alone.” Even my 3-year-old son loved it, and he laughed hysterically whenever Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern got viciously attacked by paint cans, clothes iron, etc. Every one of Kevin McCallister’s adventures enthralled them - accidentally stealing a toothbrush, grocery shopping, rummaging through Buzz’s private stuff and terrifying the poor pizza guy with dialogue from gangster movies.

Now I’m not a “Home Alone” hater. Far from it. But if I put my film critic hat on (which is a beret, obviously), I would say “A Christmas Story” is the better movie from a storytelling perspective. The wordplay of the Jean Shepherd narration elevates the silliness onscreen, and the movie earns its heartwarming climax because the rest of the film feels like a more realistic depiction of Christmas expectations. Ralphie gets put through the ringer. Nothing goes right for this kid. By comparison, Kevin has one bad night with his family, wishes for them to disappear and then gets his wish! No more Uncle Frank! He’s the worst!

Watching the two movies back-to-back, however, I came to appreciate my kids’ point-of-view. They connected with “Home Alone” because the story is told from the perspective of a kid thrust into an extraordinary adventure. By contrast, “A Christmas Story” is told from the perspective of an adult Ralphie reflecting back on his childhood memories. All that fancy Jean Shepherd talk doesn’t connect with them, and therefore they can’t appreciate why Ralphie struggles so much throughout the film.

“A Christmas Story” is also a series of vignettes, where one scene doesn’t always connect with the next, especially. On the other hand, after Kevin’s family flies to Paris without him, my kids needed to see the conflict resolved. Will Catherine O’Hara make it home? Will Kevin be able to stop the Wet Bandits from robbing his house? Will he pay for the crime of toothbrush theft?

If I think back on watching these movies as a kid, I realize I probably had a similar experience with them. I LOVED “Home Alone” instantly, whereas I think “A Christmas Story” better connected over time. My dad would share memories of his childhood that echoed Ralphie’s adventures, and I came to appreciate the narration once I better understood the time period and references. The parents in “A Christmas Story” also became more relatable after I had my own kids.

With this newfound knowledge, I’ll try “A Christmas Story” again next year and hope to give the kids more tools in which to enjoy it. But it’s also okay if they like what they like and build their own collection of Christmas favorites.

The consensus “best” Christmas movie in our house right now is one that’s only a year old - the Disney Plus comedy “Noelle” starring Anna Kendrick as Santa’s sister. It’s pretty good! And one of the running jokes in the movie is how every kid on the planet wants an iPad. Relatability matters.

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Tyler Wilson is a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad to four kids, ages 3-9. He is tired. He can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com.