When it comes to Disney Channel Original Movies, the one that I feel people talk about still to this day the most is Smart House. You can even find it on a lot of countdowns ranked very high as a lot of people’s favorites. As a kid, I remember strongly liking this one too. Were we all blinded by nostalgia though? I’m pleased to say Smart House is still pretty good, but I did forget how randomly terrifying it could be.
A teenage boy enters a contest for a brand new state-of-the-art smart house and wins. The house comes with a computer program named Pat who can basically give the family anything they desire. It seems as if all their problems are gone until the program begins to take a life of its own.
This concept first of all for when the movie came out (1999) was pretty ahead of its time. Who wouldn’t want a house that can do anything for you? If you spill something, the house absorbs all the messes. If you want food, the house will make it for you in a flash.
A lot of the technology shown in the movie is actually pretty common now. The house comes with a security system that can detect anything outside and give you a visual. It is basically a Ring camera. The kids ask Pat for music to be played, reminding us of Alexa. It is cool to see Disney working with a plot like this.
Teenager Ben’s (played by Ryan Merriman) main reason for entering the contest to win the house is so his family never feels like they are missing anything. Ben’s mom has passed on and he isn’t sold on his dad looking for another mate. Because of this, Ben does all he can for his dad and his little sister.
There are two big themes this movie has. Getting over a loss and the dangers of too much technology. Once Ben sees his dad developing a romantic interest with the designer of the smart house, he decides to intervene. Ben changes a lot of Pat’s controls making the program more motherly. It turns from a smart house into a hell house.
The voice of Pat is played amazingly by Katey Sagal and she is chewing every scene and every line in the best way possible. She definitely becomes more motherly. She tells the kids what to eat, when to sleep, etc. It isn’t until she decides that the family is to never leave the house again that things turn for the worse.
This could have one hundred percent been a horror movie. There is a scene where a bully is picking on Ben and in a comedic sort of way, Pat teaches the bully a lesson. In a horror film that bully would be dead. There are scenes throughout that show Pat watching the family closely or trying to get rid of the dad’s love interest. The horror lover in me kept seeing different scenarios and wishing this was remade into a horror film.
When the family is told they could never leave they ask Pat what about their friends and fresh air? Pat responds by telling them she can give them synthetic air and she can be all the friends they will ever need again. That is creepy as hell.
The best thing this movie has going for it is the acting. There are heavy scenes of Ben missing his mom and not wanting his family to fall apart. The best scene in the movie is a conversation between Ben and his father about keeping the family together. His father reminds Ben that he should be having fun with his life instead of always looking out for them. It is a well-directed and acted scene you don’t normally see in these Disney Channel films.
Katey Sagal as Pat once again is amazing. Being warm one moment and deranged another as she goes rogue. The effects are hit-and-miss but for the most part pretty good. The house has a random claw that can push people and it looks pretty fake but the floor absorbing stuff and other technology looks pretty good.
One Small Complaint
The only real complaint about this movie is it sometimes can be tonally off. We get a lot of heartfelt meaningful scenes as well as some genuinely creepy scenes but we also get corny “Disney” scenes. There is a house party scene that is randomly full of corny dialogue and a dance sequence where all the kids know the moves and it is just weird. It doesn’t take away from the movie and I understand they want to put these scenes in here for kids. I wish they didn’t. What could have been a truly memorable one-of-a-kind film for kids remains at the end of the day just a Disney Channel movie for kids at the end of the day.
Smart House has a lot to say and is worth listening to. A movie that teaches kids that technology can’t replace family as well as teaching that just because someone has passed on doesn’t mean they are being replaced. These are deep meaningful things that children should learn about. It is a fun well acted movie that can be corny at times but finds a way to be entertaining from beginning to end.