The classic “Cheaper by the Dozen” franchise has returned for a third movie adaptation. While this modern take brings a diverse and jubilant cast, it does not live up to its predecessors’ comedic or heartwarming standard.
Unknown to many, this movie franchise derived from the 1948 semi-autobiographical novel of the same namesake, written by siblings Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and Frank Gilbreth Jr. who lived in a family of 12 children. In 2003, 20th Century Fox released the renowned American comedy starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt as Tom and Kate Baker. This film follows their careers and family life with twelve children. With an incredibly talented cast and heartwarming relationships, this well-written film rightfully got its sequel “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” in 2005.
Although a somewhat cringey take on a summer comedy, the second film still holds a spot above the third, released on Mar. 18 on the Disney Plus platform. Similar to other Disney reboots like “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” Disney took the risk and attempted a very modern take on a classic. The film was directed by Gail Lerner and stars Gabrielle Union-Wade and Zach Braff. Union and Braff play Zoey and Paul, parents who are navigating through life with a blended family of 10 children while running Baker’s Breakfast, the family business. While growing the business, they move from Los Angeles to Calabasas, and Paul gets lost in the corporate world without making time for his family. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Union-Wade explains that Paul “has these very ambitious goals and he wants to move on up. But what comes with that when you have a blended family … Will all of my children be comfortable and safe here?” No spoilers, but like all Disney movies, it still has a happy ending.
There are a few things done well that are worth exploring. The film portrays a contrast from the stock picture book family, showing representation to audiences. Paul has two white children, one of whom is handicapped, with his previous wife, and they take in their Indian godson. Zoey has two Black children with her previous husband. After both divorcing, Zoey and Paul marry and blend their families, later having two sets of mixed twins and taking in their nephew to top off their dozen. The film shows what it’s like in a family of divorced and remarried parents as the four navigate boundaries. Paul and Dom, Zoey’s ex, battle for dominance as fathers, portrayed in a lighthearted dance battle but also an extremely important conversation about race. While Paul may be around more for his kids, Dom explains that Paul cannot prepare his son for being seen as a threat and being pulled over constantly by cops. Also, Zoey has to tell her twin sons to keep their toy guns inside before they go to the pool, where white children are playing with theirs. However, these topics are only explored, as Union-Wade puts it perfectly, ”in an age-appropriate, Disney way,” and the surface is only skimmed.
Now, let’s explore why this film is definitely not the first pick for movie night. First of all, the film shares no connection to the others besides their last name. It starts with an over-narrated explanation, but the narration only returns in the end. Union-Wade and Braff both give great performances as individuals, but they do not share great on-screen chemistry. Also, the script is comically unkind to Braff’s character. From horribly executing a TikTok dance, rocking skinny ripped jeans and a fanny pack to seem hip for an interview, and spitting dad jokes like “Where’s the rest of your skirt?” Paul is seen as really cringey at times. In fact, Screen Rant explains it as an “unfunny and uninspired mess of a script,” which is only saved at times by adorably executed one-liners from young Luna Baker, played by Mykal-Michelle Harris. Unfortunately, the film focuses so much on Paul’s journey to grow the business that the 10 children’s lives are not even truly explored. The Los Angeles Times explains, “They’re props, more or less.” Overall, the best part of the film might just be Beyonce’s “Love on Top” playing during the introduction credits. The audience has given the film 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, really only best for a quick airplane watch.