The SLING family is celebrating Christmas by arguing over our favorite seasonal movies. Isn’t that what all families do around the holiday? No? Must just be us, then. Today is Home Alone (1990) versus Elf (2003). Both films are bona fide classics, but does one outshine the other?
Janine Schaults: Have you ever lost count of how many times you’ve seen a movie? And there’s no quantifiable way to even begin calculating the number of viewings. Home Alone falls into that category from me: I’ve seen it at least once every holiday season since its release in 1990, which means at least 30 times. But that doesn’t account for all the additional watches. And the half watches. And the Oh-look-what’s-on-TV-I’ll-only-sit-here-for-a-minute watches. And, of course, the random non-Christmastime watches (sometimes you just need to hear Catherine O’Hara shriek, “KEVIN!” in July). This Chris Columbus blockbuster sits in my bones the same way its locale—my hometown of Chicago—does. And that kind of rewatchability cements this movie’s place at the top of my Christmas movie wishlist.
Peyton Lombardo: Home Alone is definitely a classic and something I can also watch every holiday season, but Elf is the ultimate modern-day Christmas movie. Easily one of the silliest holiday movies, Will Ferrell stars as Buddy the Elf, a man raised among elves who’s ready to leave the North Pole and find his real father in New York. His father just so happens to be on the naughty list, and Buddy knows he has to help change that. Can he crack the hard shell and cold spirit of his all-business dad? Through a series of wild and wacky events, the grown-up Santa’s helper shows us the true meaning of Christmas: family and love. This 2003 holiday blockbuster is clearly the winner here.
JS: Yeah, Will Ferrell’s face is silliness incarnate if that suits your mood, but what Home Alone lacks in sheer goofiness, it makes up for in belly-shaking slapstick. When 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally left behind in his family’s sprawling home after they jet off to Paris during Christmas vacation, he not only has to fend for himself in all the usual ways — cooking, cleaning, shopping, holiday decorating — but also fights off a pair of bumbling robbers (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) intent on burglarizing his ritzy neighborhood. The bulk of the movie shows the Wet Bandits failing miserably to circumvent three floors of Kevin’s ingenious (and often bloody) booby traps. Forget stepping on nails while barefoot, slipping on icy steps, ducking swinging paint cans, or navigating a floor littered with Micro Machines: I’ve always been more haunted about that plate of piping hot mac and cheese Kevin abandons before the hijinks get underway.
PL: Mac and cheese is always a classic, but deep down, didn’t we all want to try Elf’s spaghetti and syrup, or was that just me? No matter how gross that actually sounds, Elf made it look a little too appetizing. In addition to his questionable diet, Buddy also takes part in other holiday antics like snowball fights and decorating department stores. That’s why Elf is so great: Its silliness and immaturity lets us remember our youth when life wasn’t so hectic, and our biggest holiday stresses weren’t planning a huge family party but figuring out what gift to buy our parents with a $5 allowance. Sure, Home Alone might give us some of those memories too, but Buddy the Elf is a full-grown adult not a child. He gives us the chance to relive simpler times even after we’ve outgrown our adolescence.
JS: Elf might let us revisit the childhood we had, but Home Alone gives us a peek at the childhood we wanted (to a point, of course). Who doesn’t want the house all to themselves, with full control of the TV and seating arrangements? Unlimited cheese pizzas - no sharing? Pure heaven! Every kid wants to be in charge and, for a few glorious days, Kevin enjoys absolute freedom. On one of his unsupervised outings, Kevin stops in a church, drawn to the beautiful carols of a choir practicing inside, where he runs into his block’s curmudgeon. It’s the only way the grizzled old man can see his granddaughter since he had a falling out with his son. And I know that redheaded choir girl! We met in person at our all-girls Catholic high school, but her legend around the neighborhood as “The Home Alone Girl” proceeded her. Even when we’re apart—especially near Christmas—I can always hit play on Home Alone and say hello to my friend.
PL: I may not personally know any of Elf’s cast, but I don’t feel like I need to in order to relate. Most of us will never meet Will Ferrell in real-life, but we can all feel like we have a connection to Buddy the Elf. Despite how much the Scrooges and Grinches of the world try to downplay it, there’s no denying that the holidays are some of the most wonderful times of the year (did you sing that like I did?). Tis the season to take a break from the pressures of life, and Buddy the Elf successfully helps his dad realize that. While previously preoccupied with his high-profile publishing job, Walter recognizes that family always comes first, even if that family is an oversized elf from the North Pole. Christmas brings out the best in people, and I’m a sucker for a feel-good film that shows us that.
JS: You’re totally right about that! When we meet Kevin, he’s a bratty kid who wishes for his family to disappear. By the end, he recognizes that living in a silo, estranged from the people you love, isn’t much of a life at all. Most importantly, Home Alone is about conquering your fears (of being alone, of being left behind, of “the other,” even of merely a cluttered basement) and the lengths a mother will go to in order to reunite with her child. O’Hara’s frantic quest to get back home to her son — even bumming a ride with John Candy’s Gus Polinksi, the Polka King of the Midwest, and his truckload of merry players — works as one of the finest screwball comedic performances and shows how hysterics can also be heartwarming.
Watch Home Alone on Freeform Dec. 19, 20, 22, 24, and on Christmas day, or rent it on-demand. Elf is available on-demand.