Smart House

Movie review by
Tom Cassidy, Common Sense Media
Smart House Movie Poster Image
Disney family comedy looks at pros and cons of technology.
  • NR
  • 1999
  • 82 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

The movie details technology from the end of the 20th century, which -- with some explanation -- can show kids how far, and how quickly, the digital world has progressed.

Positive Messages

Addresses emotions kids can feel after losing a parent and encourages communication. The importance of a loving and hardworking family, and helping out around the house. How smart technology can help improve lives but can't ever replace human interaction. Some bullying.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ben, a 13-year-old boy, is hardworking and helps his family following the death of his mother. Ben's father, Nick, is an attentive and communicative dad. But he also calls out Ben on bad behavior when appropriate. Sara, a technician who starts a relationship with Nick, approaches it with sensitivity to his children's feelings. PAT, the smart home, eventually behaves aggressively, but its intentions are well meaning.

Violence & Scariness

The death of a parent is referred to throughout. Some school bullying -- a character is called "geek," pushed into a locker, and made to do the bully's homework. After standing up to the bullies, a character is shown with a black eye and bruised face. As a means to teaching them a lesson, the "smart house" electrocutes the bully with small shocks before creating a skull hologram that chases them out of the house. The house malfunctions and flings oranges around the kitchen, causing characters to hide. The house imprisons a family with steel shutters and electrifies the door handles. On a video screen, real-life footage of a Nazi rally is shown, followed by an atomic bomb blast.

Sexy Stuff

Some reference to being attracted to the opposite sex. An adult couple kiss. A teenage girl kisses a boy on the cheek.

Language

Mild language -- usually used in a bullying context -- including "geek," "kick-butt," "dead meat," and "shut up."

Consumerism

Some Disney product placement. A character's video alarm clock displays Mickey Mouse conducting an orchestra at a Disneyland event. Disney characters Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Ariel from The Little Mermaid are mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Smart House is an early Digital Age Disney TV movie from 1999 about both the benefits and limitations of technology. Fun historical detail shows how far -- and quickly -- technology has developed, such as a missed phone call because the dial-up internet is still connected. But the movie's titular futuristic home -- nicknamed "PAT" -- is essentially what's become Amazon's Alexa or Google Home; a voice-activated smart speaker system that can control functions around the house. The mother of the Cooper family has died and a large part of the story centers around Ben (Ryan Merriman) trying to do all the household tasks so his mother doesn't need to be "replaced." When his dad, Nick (Kevin Kilner) meets Sara (Jessica Steen) complex emotions are discussed and the family communicate in a mature, open, and honest way. The movie features some bullying -- Ben is shown with a black eye and a bruised face. PAT enacts revenge on the lead bully with electric shocks and verbal abuse. It also manifests a flying skull hologram to chase the bully, which might be scary and confusing for young viewers. When PAT learns the house is to be shut down, it traps the family, electrifies the door handles, and makes a human manifestation of itself -- played by Katey Sagal. Eventually the house learns that while it is useful for tasks, it can't replace a human guardian.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMcegabby September 11, 2020

Mediocre, alright

It’s kinda funny to see how people back in the 90s thought the 2000s would be like with a technologically advanced house. It’s alright, a little cheesy and bori... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

In SMART HOUSE, teenager Ben (Ryan Merriman) wants to lighten his workload at home so enters and wins a competition to live in an automated house. When his father, Nick (Kevin Kilner) starts a new relationship, Ben tries to teach the home to be a mother. But the house soon oversteps its authority.

Is it any good?

A solid moral code and strong family values are the bedrock for this movie, which builds upon that a strange, eerie fantasy that has a couple of genuinely unsettling moments. A late-90s time capsule, the dial-up internet connection and "futuristic" video calls are quaint reminders of how progress has snowballed. But the tech is also prescient -- Amazon launched its Alexa smart speaker with home integration 15 years after this movie built an entire premise around the idea. TSmart House solidly captures the fashions and fads of the age, too, with three friends suddenly busting a move to a music video by 90s British boy band, Five.

Directed by LeVar Burton -- best known as Star Trek: The Next Generation's Geordi La Forge -- the movie's performances are all warm and likable, with Kilner and Jessica Steen both suitably dignified and attentive as the adult leads Nick and Sara. Katey Sagal as the human embodiment of PAT, the "smart house," is suitably unhinged and intense. Smart House works as intended and with the time that's passed since its original release, doubles as a look back at the early days of integrated technology.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how technology is depicted in Smart House. How quickly has the digital age moved on? How did the movie correctly predict some of what we see and use today? What are some of the positives and negatives to technologyWhat everyday tasks and interactions do you think an artificial intelligence system should be trusted to do and what things should be left to humans?

  • How is bullying depicted in the movie? Did it seem realistic or exaggerated? Have you seen or experienced bullying in school? How did you deal with it?

  • What emotions did Ben feel when there was a chance his father would start a relationship with another woman? Did the adults handle the situation well? Why is communication so important when dealing with new situations?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love technology

Character Strengths

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