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Disney+ Review: Cheaper by the Dozen

March 17, 2022

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Cheaper by the Dozen, the latest Disney+ Original Movie that is being dropped on the streaming service this week, styles itself as a remake of the 2003 Steve Martin comedy of the same name, which was itself a remake of a 1950 film that was in turn based on the true story of the Gilbreth family that had twelve kids.

Like the 2003 film, and its 2005 sequel Cheaper by the Dozen 2, this remake is also about a family navigating caring for a whole gaggle kids. But, despite keeping the same title, there are only nine kids plus one cousin this time around, and how they even get to that number has changed, with this version of the story updating things to make the Baker’s a biracial, blended family.

A blended family was the premise of that other “bunch of kids” movie Yours, Mine & Ours, and the title Cheaper by the Dozen doesn’t even really make sense with less kids, but I digress. This is the epitome of a remake that nobody really asked for, and it plays out basically like an extended sitcom episode. This is not to say that the 2003 film was some sort of untouchable classic of cinema (Shawn Levy, the director of that film, serves as executive producer this time around), but it was an enjoyable and charming family movie that wasn’t exactly in need of an upgrade.

The parents of the new film’s brood are Paul (Zach Braff) and Zoey Baker (Gabrielle Union), both parents from previous relationships who decided to get married and blend their families. Among them are his kids Ella (Kylie Rogers), Harley (Caylee Blosenski) and godson Haresh (Aryan Simhadri), whom he adopted after his parents were killed in a drunk driving accident; her two kids Deja (Journee Brown) and DJ (Andre Robinson); and two sets of triplets that they had together, Luna (Mykal-Michelle Harris) and Luca (Leo Abelo Perry) and Bronx (Sebastian Cote) and Bailey (Christian Cote).

Adding to the unique family situation are the presence of Paul’s ex Kate (Erika Christensen), who has her own key and hangs around the house as an unpaid babysitter, and Zoey’s ex-husband Dom (Timon Kyle Durrett), a professional football player who wants to start spending more time with his two kids, causing some jealous tension between him and Paul.

The family runs a breakfast restaurant together in Los Angeles, known for Paul’s signature “hot, sweet and savoury” sauce, which changes flavours depending what you put it on. When Paul gets an offer to produce his breakfast sauce and sell it in grocery stores, and a generous sum of money for the rights, he has enough to move the family from their home in Echo Park to a “McMansion” in Calabasas. Paul starts travelling for business, the kids get up to the expected shenanigans as they struggle to adapt to a new school, and the plot will be familiar to anyone who has seen the earlier version of the story.

Paul and Zoey gain an extra kid after Paul’s teenage nephew Seth (Luke Prael) comes to live with them when his drug addicted mother ends up relapsing, bringing them to a total of ten kids in the house. It’s not a terrible storyline, and Seth is at least one of the film’s more theoretically interesting characters, but his introduction is undercut by the laziness of the writing. Paul’s sister is never even seen, and our first introduction to the existence of her or Seth is this brief mention that she is “back in rehab,” reducing her merely to a convenient plot point to increase the number of kids by one. But they are still two short!

The film serves as the feature debut of veteran TV producer Gail Lerner, whose credits include the sitcoms Will & Grace and Black-ish, and it feels more like a pilot for a new show. The script by Kenya Barris and Jenifer Rice-Genzuk (both of Black-ish fame) does set itself apart from the 2003 film by being about a mixed-race family, and it tries to make itself feel relevant through this diversity (one of the kids uses a wheelchair), even bringing up themes of racial justice. Does Paul, as a white man, really know what it’s like to raise his Black kids and prepare them for the realities of racial profiling? Will Zoey ever be made to feel truly comfortable amongst the white moms at the pool club?

While Cheaper by the Dozen does fleetingly raise these somewhat interesting questions, it also feels too sanitized and predictable to really grapple with them. The film’s attempts at having a deeper message often come across as ham-fisted and forced, getting lost in the corniness of it all. This is not to mention the often cringey dialogue and attempts at being “hip” that fall flatter than the flapjacks at Paul’s restaurant. For their parts, Braff and Union both go broad, with Braff in particular offering a lot of mugging and flailing about. Though, to be fair, they are limited by the material and do their best with what they are given.

The dozen of the title must be meant to refer to the two parents as well, but the fact that this remake couldn’t even squeeze in an extra two kids to get the basic mechanics of the plot right is just one of the many ways in which this Cheaper by the Dozen feels like a lazy ripoff. The film tries to hide the staleness of the material by injecting it with a vague air of progressivism (the family has two dogs named Bark Obama and Joe Bitin’, cue the eye-rolls), but it’s easy to see through the corporatized, mass-produced sheen of it all. Like many a remake of a popular film, this one doesn’t really work and wasn’t really needed, and it will surely be forgotten in short order.

Cheaper by the Dozen will be available to stream exclusively on Disney+ as of March 18th.

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