When Disney’s new Cheaper by the Dozen was announced, many decreed that Hollywood has run out of ideas and that the Steve Martin versions reign supreme. If these movies weren’t also remakes, I would be inclined to agree.
This new Cheaper by the Dozen isn’t a remake per se, but it does bear some similarities with previous incarnations. However, this new version does add a lot to make it different from any of the four previous films.
The most significant changes are apparent from the start: The Baker family are now a blended family consisting of Paul Baker (Zach Braff) and Zoe Baker (Gabrielle Union), their five children from previous marriages, their two sets of twins, and their nephew who comes to stay with them. You will also immediately notice that Paul and Zoe Baker are an interracial couple.
These small changes manage to make Cheaper by the Dozen feel wholly separated from the previous versions because now the writers had free reign to discuss topics such as divorce, racism, white privilege, and co-parenting, all of which are handled amicably, even if some of the scenarios feel a tad shoed-in.
Meet The Bakers
The blended family situation is the change I welcomed most because it’s not too often we get movies with loving and supporting step-parents. We also have Paul and Zoe’s ex-partners, Kate (Erika Christensen) and Dom (Timon Kyle Durrett), brought into the mix, shifting the power dynamics even further – particularly with Dom, who hasn’t one-hundred-per cent approved of Paul’s parenting skills.
I’m no massive Zach Braff fan, but he is very likeable as Paul Baker, and the role felt like it was written with him in mind. He’s quirky, fun, and manages to make some of the cringe-worthy scenes a bit more bearable.
Gabrielle Union continues to deliver great performances, and although it does feel like she’s stepped out of her comfort zone, Union is one of the strongest pieces of this baker’s dozen. Zoe’s sarcastic and snappy forward wit is a brilliant juxtaposition to Paul’s more childlike sensibilities.
The biggest issue comes with the children. And let me be clear, none of the kids delivers a bad performance; they are all rather good. Even though it felt like I was watching a Nickelodeon show and expecting a ham-fisted laugh-track whenever they spoke or had a humorous moment, their charm and well-acted performances helped alleviate this.
The issue comes with the writers, who didn’t know what to do with each of the children, unlike the Steve Martin versions, where each child had their own story or was at least involved with one another. This version places some children over the others and essentially forgets about them, leaving them to deliver the occasional one-liner.
I felt this strongly with Harley (Caylee Blosenski), who gave one of the strongest performances despite not being given much to do. The same goes for Ella (Kylie Rogers), who appears to have a strong bond with her step-sister, Deja (Journee Brown), but it’s never explored past a few implied scenes.
The children who are placed at the forefront are Deja, DJ (Andre Robinson), Haresh (Aryan Simhadri), and Seth (Luke Prael). Deja and DJ are Zoe’s children from her marriage with Dom, Haresh is Paul and Kate’s adopted son, and Seth is the son of Paul’s sister. And that is just a tiny sample of how the film has changed how the Bakers are related.
Deja is a basketball prodigy following in the footsteps of her famous dad, and despite loving the sport, she sometimes feels pushed into loving it more than she really does. DJ feels more connected with his step-dad rather than Dom due to their vastly different interests, and Haresh and Seth have more in common than they think which helps create a great silent rapport that eventually leads to Seth becoming quite protective of his younger cousin.
You also have Paul and Zoe’s youngest four children, two sets of twins, played by Leo Abelo Perry, Mykal-Michelle Harris, Christian Cote and Sebastian Cote. They are the cutest characters in the entire movie; however, they add nothing to the story besides comic relief.
The New Family Dynamic
The aspect of an interracial couple is one of the most prominent themes in the film, and rightfully so, considering that these are issues the Bakers would realistically deal with. My problem with it is that Kenya Barris (co-writer and producer) has told this story before with “black-ish”, “mixed-ish”, and “#BlackAF”. Hence, the inclusion of Barris makes the topic nearly one-note and uninspired because it often feels like he has re-written some of his old television scripts.
Still, what Barris does do right is having the Bakers move from their LA home and into a gated community filled with seemingly well-meaning individuals who deliver a barrage of microaggressions. Some scenes are heavy-handed and could have been re-written to flow better, but most of these scenes are realistic to a point.
Who Is This Movie For?
I’ve been open about my dislike for the majority of the Disney+ Original Films. While Cheaper by the Dozen does have a level of Disney Channel TV Movie quality, it rises above many of the more disastrous outings Disney has released on the service. It’s a short and harmless movie with charm, loveable characters played by likeable actors, and life lessons that many people will sadly ignore.
But parents who want to introduce their children to topics like divorce and racism, then Cheaper by the Dozen, though not the best movie to handle these subject matters, would be a good starting point because of how the issues and how the characters have to deal with them are easy for younger viewers to understand.
Who was Cheaper by the Dozen made for? Certainly not fans of the original 1950s version, and not fans of the 2000s versions. This is a Cheaper by the Dozen for a new generation of fans. And at its heart, it’s first and foremost a family film, so many people, especially critics, will feel a level of disconnect, especially with the childish humour, but there are enough mature topics to keep adults engaged.
It’s a good little flick that deserves less hate because it’s not that bad!
You can catch Cheaper by the Dozen on March 18th, exclusively on Disney+!