Harry Potter director Chris Columbus reveals how his experience making Home Alone influenced his approach to the first two Harry Potter films.
Director Chris Columbus reveals how the making of Home Alone influenced his approach to helming his Harry Potter films. Columbus is famously behind the first two instalments of both the Home Alone series and the Harry Potter franchise. Both series have gone on to become classics in their own right, with the former being considered by many as essential Christmas viewing and the latter one of the most successful franchises in movie history.
While the two films may not seem to have much in common other than their director, they actually bear more similarities than one would think. Though Home Alone takes place in an early '90s suburban house and Harry Potter is set in the fantastical wizarding world, both films centre around young children heroically rising up to defend themselves against adult antagonists. Both series were catalysts for child actors' careers, and they even include iconic scores by the legendary John Williams.
In a recent interview with Polygon, Columbus reveals an even deeper connection, stating that his experience making the Home Alone movies largely informed how he approached the creation of the world of Harry Potter. Columbus notes that he believes casting a child actor with less experience brings a certain level of realism to their performance that more-seasoned children may not possess. He also stressed to both production teams the importance of creating a sense of timelessness. See his full quote below:
When it came to casting the Potter kids, I wanted that same sort of realism. What happens when you cast an actor who has not had a lot of experience is that they bring in a tremendous amount of reality, naturalism, and comedy based on instinct, not based on the fact that they’ve done seven years of a Nickelodeon show. So for me, [the goal] was finding these unknown actors who could basically become these characters. [...]
I said to each of my department heads [on Home Alone], I want this film to feel timeless. In other words, I don’t want someone to turn it on 25 years from now and it feels dated. I want it to feel as if it were made yesterday. Everything from the wardrobe to the wallpaper — everything had to feel like it had a timeless quality. We brought that sensibility to Harry Potter. The goal was, if you’re in Hogwarts, you may not be able to tell what year this movie was shot. This could have been shot in 1956, maybe 1977. Maybe it was shot in 2020. And that’s the thing I’m most proud of: You can’t really pinpoint it.
Based off the films' enduring success, there certainly seems to be some validity to his approaches to casting and production design. While it is true that both Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone) and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) did have some experience before they were cast in their respective roles, neither were particularly established, allowing them to become associated with their parts in the minds of the audience. And, though Home Alone may be a bit more distinctly '90s and Harry Potter feels more like a period piece somehow set in present day, both films have aged well since their releases, which viewers might not have clocked as the result of the filmmakers' careful strategy.
There is no doubt that Columbus was able to make timeless classics of both films. The Harry Potter franchise is still growing to this day, and while reviews for the new Home Alone reboot have been universally negative, one would be hard pressed to find a Christmas movie list that doesn't feature the original. Both movies have wormed their way firmly into the public's heart, and it seems likely that they will continue to pick up new fans as each generation discovers them.