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Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff star in 'Cheaper by the Dozen,' debuting on Disney Plus.
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Now Streaming: Conspicuously arriving just two days after the Disney Plus streaming service began featuring TV-MA content, a new version of a family comedy stands out for the sturdy familiarity of its concept.
Published in 1948, Cheaper by the Dozen drew its inspiration from its co-authors, Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, siblings who grew up together in a household with many children. Reportedly, their parents were "time and motion study and efficiency experts" who experimented their ideas upon the household.
A film adaptation followed in 1950, starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy, featuring a large family growing up in New Jersey in a loving household parented by an efficiency expert and a psychologist. Some 53 years later, Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt starred in a new version that kept the household size but made the parents a football coach and an author who decide to move from a small town in Illinois to a Chicago-area college town. A sequel followed. [Both are now streaming on Disney Plus.]
In 2016, when a new deal with Fox was announced, a new version was listed among a number of projects that Kenya Barris (Black-ish) and his production company were developing at the time. In 2019, after Fox was acquired by Disney, plans were revealed for a feature-film version, to be directed by Gail Lerner, whose sitcom experience included a stint as Black-ish producer. Gabrielle Union was signed to star in December 2020.
Written for the screen by Kenya Barris and Jenifer Rice-Genzuk Henry (also a Black-ish alum), Cheaper by the Dozen begins with a large and blended family living modestly but well in Los Angeles. Zoe (Gabrielle Union) and Paul (Zach Braff) own and manage a popular restaurant while raising their brood, including children who come from previous marriages, adopted children, and two sets of twins from their own marriage. They are organized efficiently and are a loving family that is extended by Paul's first wife, Kate (Erika Christensen), who is always around to babysit.
Complications begin when Zoe's first husband, football star Dom (Timon Kyle Durrett), announces his retirement and declares his intention to spend more time with his two children, leading to a 'first act' that is full of not-so-friendly yet very silly rivalry between the insecure Paul and the supremely confident Dom. The major wrinkle comes when a sauce that Paul created for the restaurant gets picked up by a corporate buyer, making the family wealthy and prompting a move to Calabasas, California, a smaller, well-to-do community that is not accustomed to such a blended, racially diverse family. The adjustment is not easy for anyone.
It's in the latter portions of the film that the family's diversity begins to bear dramatic fruitage. Although still handled lightly, several issues are addressed in a mature manner that reflects modern-day concerns and realities about white parents, Black children, bi-racial children, and inherent biases and profiling.
Cheaper by the Dozen may not be totally fresh; it still relies upon a few too many comedy staples and the perceived everlasting cuteness of children, which may be true for parents but not for all single adults without children, such as myself. Gabrielle Union is a very strong leading character and I enjoyed all her scenes; not so much Zach Braff, though he does his level best.
It’s been said, somewhere by somebody, that children are according to taste. How many, or how often, is up to you. But if you love the watching the playful antics of children — and how can you not — this movie is for you. [Disney Plus]