By Charles Kirkland Jr.
The classic film of the same name gets another update in the new Disney+ movie, Cheaper by the Dozen.
The Bakers are a blended family who runs a small breakfast restaurant in Los Angeles. Paul (Zach Braff) has three children from a previous marriage and Zoey (Gabrielle Union) has two from hers. Together, they have five more children including two sets of twins. On the weekends, when the little ones are not in school, Paul’s ex-wife, Kate (Erika Christensen) babysits while everyone works in the restaurant. When Paul gets the opportunity to market his breakfast sauce, he moves his family to a large house in Calabasas and gets drawn into a world of franchising not just his sauce but the restaurant that his family has established. With Paul’s extended absences, Zoey is given the responsibility of taking care of ten children (with cousin “sticky-fingers” Seth) and navigating a whole new world filled with unforeseen complications.
Written by Kenya Barris and Jenifer Rice-Genzuk from a screen story by Craig Titley and based upon the novel by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth-Carey, Cheaper by the Dozen stars Braff Union and Christensen along with Timon Kyle Durrett, Journee Brown, Kylie Rogers, Andre Robinson, Caylee Blosenski, Aryan Simhadri, Leo Abelo Perry, Mykal-Michelle Harris, Christian Cote, Sebastian Cote, and Luke Prael. The film is directed by Gail Lerner who worked with Barris on several episodes of Black-ish and Mixed-ish. An interesting note is that Shawn Levy (Free Guy) who directed the 2003 remake serves as an executive producer for the film.
From the start, this movie is Cheaper by the Dozen in name only. It is not a remake of the last film by this name from 2003 that starred Bonnie Hunt, Steve Martin, and a star-studded cast nor is it a remake of the original from 1950. This is a re-imagining of the story with an eye to current events in the world. One major difference from both of the prior films is that this titular “Dozen” includes the parents. In the past, the dozen was just the twelve children from the same parents. The biggest difference in this film is the “Brady Bunch” element introduced into the story involving the blending of two families to create a new one. The underlying implication is that, in this modern time, no real couple would undertake the creation of twelve children of their own volition. This implication may be true in today’s era, but it is no more true than it would have been in either 2003 or 1950. It is the source for the comedy in the book and the films.
This film is mostly very fun. The children are adorable, especially the “littles.” The major plot beats remain the same. One parent finds the raising of all the children almost impossible (even with the help of both of the exes). The children are unhappy with their new move (this time that includes the mother). One of the children runs away forcing the family to come together to find him. These are the essential elements of the story that may allow this film to use the series name.
There are significant changes though, some of them are good for the update and some are not well executed. It is great that social commentary is included in the story. How would anyone expect to tell a biracial family comedy without addressing some of the issues that this type of family faces? Zoey is profiled and suffers micro-aggressions at the hands of a “Karen” named Anne (June Diane Raphael). The youngest children are advised not to play with guns outside of the home and are dejected by seeing their new neighborhood friends play openly with the same toys. These are great discussion points to recognize and discuss as families.
The problem comes with one scene that occurs toward the end of the movie where Zoey’s ex-husband, all-pro football player Dom Clayton (Timon Kyle Durrett) confronts Paul about the reality of being a black man in this world. He is painfully open about the racism that he faces and how he worries that his son and daughter are unprepared to face those situations because he is being raised by a father who will never face those situations.
For a movie, this light-hearted and fun is a very heavy and involved topic to raise in the film, and kudos to the writing staff for introducing it. However, the film drops the ball on this conversation by never resolving the emotion nor addressing a simple solution to the problem. While the answer to the situation and the emotions surrounding them are impossibly difficult to address in real life, in this environment, a simple acknowledgment of the problem and the solution for the family should have been addressed and could have been simply done with just a few lines. This was a real opportunity to confront a very serious issue that this movie missed. Unfortunately, it is a real misstep. Either finish the discussion here or don’t introduce it at all.
Outside of this misstep, the movie is as enjoyable and entertaining as a Disney family comedy can be. Rated PG for thematic elements, suggestive material, and language, this new version of Cheaper By The Dozen is a fun watch for the family that tries a little too hard to be reflective of the new world in which it exists.
Cheaper By The Dozen is available on Disney+ on March 18.