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Tom and Kate Baker (Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt) were childhood sweethearts who met at college, married and went on to have an unusually large family of twelve children. They are living quite happily, if somewhat chaotically, in their middle class lifestyle when Tom is invited to Chicago to coach the Stallions. The Stallions were his old football team and the job offer is Tom's dream come true; however, he has great difficulty persuading the children that the move will be a good one. Kate is very supportive of Tom as she knows what the job means to him but Tom has to promise the family that they will be a much happier and stronger family in their new home. Charlie (Tom Welling), the oldest boy, is particularly unhappy about leaving his girlfriend behind.
The Bakers move into their new house which is in a fairly upmarket neighbourhood. Their new neighbours are not very welcoming. Not long after, Kate learns that her book Cheaper by the Dozen is to be published and she needs to go to New York for a few days. Never having left the children before, Kate is reluctant to leave Tom on his own. Tom insists that he will be able to manage and sends her off with his blessing.
Tom is unprepared for the total chaos that reigns while Kate is away which makes for all kinds of amusing events. The few days turn into two weeks and Tom has increasing difficulty managing his family and devoting time to his career. This gives Tom the opportunity to asses what's really important to him. The crunch comes when Kate decides to come home early and invites the crew from Oprah to film her 'one big happy family', who are not particularly happy on that day.
None of concern
There is a lot of comic violence done for laughs, including the following:
- Mark's frog falls into the bowl of scrambled eggs causing it to spill everywhere. Tom goes to catch the frog and slips in the scrambled eggs.
- The neighbour's son Dylan falls over the balcony and hangs from the chandelier. Tom jumps on to save him but the chandelier crashes to the floor taking both of them down.
- The children dislike Nora's boyfriend Hank and so trip him up making him land in the wading pool.
- The children soak Hank's underwear in a bucket of mince then set their dog loose on him. The dog goes straight for Hank's groin pulling him off his chair, then attacks him from the backside.
- Hank runs outside and the neighbourhood dogs all come after him chasing him into his car.
- One of the children vomits onto the kitchen floor and his brother slips over in it.
- The brother knocks another child into a ladder, knocking off the tradesman who crashes to the floor.
- The young twins throw cakes and spray water at the guests at Dylan's birthday party.
- The bouncy castle blows up, propelling Tom into the air. He lands on Dylan leaving him with a black eye and a broken arm.
- Tom gets a dart thrown at his foot.
- The door is split open with an axe.
- The children are all fighting when the TV crew come to film them.
- Nora hits her self-obsessed boyfriend Hank.
There are also some other scenes that are not comic:
- The twins fight each other.
- The twins throw blocks at their teacher.
- There is a lot of verbal harassment at the new schools the children all have to attend. Mark, in particular, gets his glasses taken off and thrown to the ground.
- Mark's siblings gang up against his attackers.
Content that may disturb children
There is not a lot of scary material in this movie except for the following:
- The dog attacking Hank seems quite vicious.
- Mark runs away from home and all the family have to go and look for him.
Some children in this age group might still be scared by the dog attack.
There is nothing that would scare children in this age group.
- Nora and Hank are told that they can't sleep together at home so Nora moves in with Hank.
- Tom says that 'twelve kids later they (Tom and Kate) have still got the heat'.
- Tom tells the neighbours that they had twelve kids because 'he couldn't keep her off him'.
- Tom needs Nora's help but she won't come unless Hank's allowed to sleep in her room.
- Hank asks Tom and Kate if they will be 'popping out another one soon'.
- Nora eventually goes home to help and sneaks Hank into her bedroom. In the morning they confront Tom who is angry about the situation.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
People drink alcohol at a wedding.
Nudity and sexual activity
There is no nudity but Hank and Nora kiss seductively in front of her parents' house.
None of concern
This movie contains some mild coarse language and name-calling.
Ideas to discuss with your children
While this film has its funny moments and is quite entertaining for all ages, it has an unreality about it that diminishes its appeal. Such a large family would be quite rare today and the fact that Kate has not aged much since she got married and has given birth to twelve children and found the time to write a book seems most implausible. The film looks at the issues of parenting and whether it's possible to have a demanding career simultaneously.
The take home message is that two parents with a large family cannot both have a career. You might like to discuss this conclusion as well as other values in the movie such as a strong family bond, loyalty, care and concern. You could also talk about some of the negative elements of family life, such as:
- sibling rivalry
- having fun at another's expense
- the use of violence to solve conflict
- name-calling, intolerance, disobedience, deceitfulness and harassment.