Despite what my dad says, Home Alone is one of the essential Christmas movies. Macaulay Culkin was born to play Kevin McCallister (if, perhaps, for little else), who in the original kid-boobytraps-house-to-outwit-criminals tale is the perfect blend of precocious and likable. The movie fires on every facet: deftly delivering comedy both physical and character-driven, conjuring the best of suburban Christmastime, an utterly charming and believable cast, integrating an authentic pain and sadness, and a family love that pays off cathartically in the end.
Elevating the movie all the more is John Williams’ festive, animated score. As much as I love everything about Home Alone, I’m still amazed how inspired Williams was to find music this good. He whipped up an entire Christmas feast for what could have been a silly, broad kid’s comedy—sprinkling dashes of Nutcracker-flavored set pieces (including the evergreen “Holiday Flight” for the “We slept in!” scene, which unspools so rapidly that I can see lines of smoke coming off the celli), writing not one but two original Christmas carols that are worthy of the canon’s finest, keeping pace with the sugar-fueled antics in his cartoon comedy material, and topping it all off with an emotional and dramatic weight that lends the film much of its resonant truth and beauty.
It’s that final ingredient at the fore of the finale track, where Mrs. McCallister (the wonderful Catherine O’Hara) reunites with Kevin for the movie’s big hanky moment—made all the more poignant by seeing old Marley through the window reuniting with his own estranged family. Williams washes fragments of his central carol (“Somewhere in My Memory”) in a tender clarinet and oboe duet, then froths it into a big emotional releases.
He develops the melody sweetly, here dropping its notes slowly over a serene ostinato, leavening it with busy accompaniment, then bringing it back down into a state of calm. The track is concluded with a rich, string statement over harpsichord outline, and then Williams makes the yuletide lullaby soar into the nighttime sky like only Williams can.
Leslie Briccuse’s lyrics contain too much corn syrup to sit alongside those of “Silent Night” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” but John Williams’ carol unequivocally belongs to the ages. Merry Christmas everyone.