William Hudson, Stu Krieger
Comedy, Drama, Family
Kevin Kilner, Ryan Merriman, Katy Sagal, Jessica Steen
June 26, 1999
A teenager wins a fully automated dream house in a competition, but soon the computer controlling it begins to take over.
It’s time for another look at a beloved Disney Channel Original Movie! As I’ve done before, I watched one of the movies that I remember from my childhood in an effort to see how it holds up, and given my profession as a writer, I am prone to thoroughly analyzing the things I love and hold dear (sorry friends, family). Smart House was up for viewing and while it wasn’t as deep and thought-provoking as Mom’s Got a Date With a Vampire (well that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), it does try to juggle a few interesting concepts. So I invite you to sit back, relax, and find out how smart this house REALLY is.
Smart House starts out in standard Disney Channel fashion by establishing the character of Ben, a teen who enjoys playing basketball. As viewers, we know he likes basketball because we’re treated to a fantastic shot of him playing basketball in a sweatshirt with a basketball printed on it. This lack of subtlety shows up later on, too. So Ben is a basketball-loving teen who does his best to maintain the household for his dad and sister because his mother is straight up dead. Ben goes by Mom’s Got a Date With a Vampire rules for child characters and wastes no time in sabotaging his father’s chances at further happiness by “forgetting” to relay messages from interested women. Like a dictator reigning to preserve the image of his country, Ben places a stranglehold on his father’s love life in order to make sure the memory of his mother is never erased. This theme, however, is briefly set aside to introduce another one that rides in the back seat throughout the film.
Ben manually enters his family (thousands of times) into a contest to win a “smart house”. He believes that if he can win this house, it will act as a maternal entity and provide for his family, therefore ensuring that his dad doesn’t have to date/marry anyone and replace his dead, dead mother. The house is built by a woman named Sarah, and the contest itself is run by an anonymous company. Their reason for giving away the most technologically advanced entity ever created for civilian use is never stated.
Anyway, surprise! Ben Cooper and his family win the house. The secondary theme of Smart House that isn’t ever explicitly dealt with outside of what happens in the plot is the idea of technology becoming too powerful. The titular house is run by an AI named PAT. PAT’s abilities are put on display when the family takes a tour of the house. PAT takes a blood sample from the daughter, Angie, and proceeds to list every major aspect of her past and present physical health except for, bafflingly, her blood type. Sarah, the house’s creator, assures the Coopers that this, along with constant surveillance, is simply PAT’s way of “getting to know” them. The father even mentions the creepiness of having a Big Brother situation contained within his house, but Sarah tells them to ignore it. The troubling nature of a company giving away a multi-million dollar house with 24-hour surveillance and data gathering capabilities is never brought up.
The plot progresses, Ben keeps reiterating the fact that he doesn’t want another mother, and then he takes action to ensure he gets exactly that. Ben breaks into the house’s control room and reprograms PAT to be more motherly by having her download endless streams of mother-based sitcoms. As a result of this, PAT takes on the role of mom and throws a party in order to deal with Ryan, Ben’s bully at school.
“Look at that, the house likes me!” Ryan exclaims after arriving for the party.
“By the end of the night, Ryan, I may have a crush on you,” PAT responds, implying the crushing of his body into a flesh-tube of bonemeal and leaking plasma.
Unfortunately, we are not treated to a scene of Ryan getting crushed, but things do take a turn for the worse. Ben’s desperation to have his family remain the same ironically results in nearly tearing them apart as PAT becomes more maternal and ever more hostile. There’s a message being put forth that although it hurts to lose a loved one, a refusal to move on can easily take one down a darker path. And because Disney Channel Original Movies are usually anything but subtle, this results in PAT physically manifesting herself in order to prevent Sarah from becoming the family’s new mother figure. Ultimately, the day is saved by Ben convincing PAT that she can never be a real mother, as well as by accepting that a new maternal figure in his family doesn’t have to mean losing the memory of his mother.
Sarah fixes PAT back to her original state and things are looking up by the time things are coming to a close. The movie could’ve ended there. It could’ve. But the final scene chooses to end on a more disturbing thought. The father makes breakfast for everyone, but is confused when he realizes that the plain pancakes he cooked somehow ended up being chocolate chip ones. The camera pans to PAT’s smiling face frozen on a screen, her dead shark eyes staring out at the family as the movie fades to black, letting the viewer slowly realize the fact that PAT is still able to do whatever she wants without any consent by the family whatsoever.
There’s a reason a Smart House sequel wasn’t made, and that reason was probably because the plot would almost certainly involve the Cooper family being violently murdered in their sleep.