Smart House is a 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) about a teenage contest whiz (Ryan Merriman), his widowed father, and his little sister, who win a computerized house that begins to take on a life of its own – the life of an overbearing mother (Katey Sagal).
|Written by||William R. Hudson|
|Directed by||LeVar Burton|
|Music by||Barry Goldberg|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||82 minutes|
|Production company||Alan Sacks Productions|
|Distributor||Buena Vista Television|
|Original network||Disney Channel|
In 1998, after the death of his mother, 13-year-old Benjamin "Ben" Cooper takes it upon himself to take care of his single father Nick and little sister Angie in Monroe County, New York. Ben enters a contest to win a smart house. The family wins and moves into the house (run by a virtual assistant named PAT, short for "Personal Applied Technology") and is introduced to its creator, Sara Barnes.
Nick and Sara begin dating, which upsets Ben, who has not moved on from the death of his mother. Ben decides to reprogram PAT to serve as a maternal figure, and the computer uses its learning capabilities to emulate mothers from 1950s-era TV shows and films.
Ben and Angie have a party while Nick and Sara are on a date. With PAT's help, Ben wins over his crush Gwen Patroni, and his bully Ryan is shown up by PAT, who electrically shocks Ryan, haunts him with ghostly skull holograms and chases him out of the house. PAT helps them clean up to cover up evidence of the party, but Nick figures it out anyway, and reprimands Ben and Angie when he finds Gwen's sweater (thrown about during a dance line) in the living room fern. Nick chastises PAT for throwing a party behind his back, asking her to be more responsible with his children.
PAT's "mother" personality starts to become more strict and overbearing. Sara shuts down the entire system and joins the family for dinner, but upon hearing Nick offhandedly suggesting she's not needed, PAT overrides the system shutdown and brings herself back online. An angry and jealous PAT generates herself as a holographic housewife, styled like the sitcom housewives Ben taught her to behave as; she kicks Sara out, seeing her as a threat to PAT's place in the family, and locks the Coopers in the house, asserting that the outside world is too dangerous.
Sara manages to make contact with Ben and sneaks into the house, but she becomes trapped with the Cooper family. Ben is able to end the lock-down by telling PAT that she isn't real and will never be human. PAT finally unlocks the doors and windows, freeing them, and shuts herself down. Sara is able to restore PAT's original personality, but PAT retains some mischievousness. Sara and Nick start dating, and Nick spends more time with his family. Ben finally accepts Sara after realizing she was never trying to replace his mother, and, with PAT's help, is able to have time for friends and hobbies again.
- Ryan Merriman as Benjamin "Ben" Cooper
- Kevin Kilner as Nicholas "Nick" Cooper
- Katie Volding as Angelina "Angie" Cooper
- Jessica Steen as Sara Barnes
- Katey Sagal as PAT, the Smart House
- Paul Linke as Tuttle
- Raquel Beaudene as Gwendolyn "Gwen" Patroni
- Joshua Boyd as Ryan
- William Higdon as Otis Jr.
- Emilio Borelli as Miles
- Jason Lansing as Johnny
The film was based on a screenplay by Stu Krieger and was directed by LeVar Burton. Krieger visited the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to research the technology featured in Smart House and his other film, Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. Krieger was cognizant that the futuristic technology featured in the film did not seem too far-fetched or unrealistic, saying "I just looked at where we’d been, where we were, and imagined where we were probably headed.”
In 2019, director LeVar Burton called the film a clear precursor to the widespread use of artificial intelligence and virtual assistant technology, saying "our homes are becoming more and more technologically sophisticated. And that after all, that was what Pat was all about."
In December 2015, Ariana Bacle of Entertainment Weekly ranked Smart House at number one on a list of the top 30 Disney Channel Original Movies. Bacle wrote, "What earns the movie this top spot on the list is its combination of sob-worthy emotion — that scene where Ben (Ryan Merriman) revisits home videos of his late mom continues to be one of the most moving moments to air on the Disney Channel — and light-hearted glee [...]. Plus, Katey Sagal's turn as the good-gone-evil-gone-good resident hologram is nothing short of iconic." An updated list by the same publication that now included the top 33 Disney Channel Original Movies once again awarded Smart House the number one position.
In May 2016, Aubrey Page of Collider ranked each Disney Channel Original Movie released up to that point. Page ranked Smart House at number three, writing, "Arguably the most iconic of the entire DCOM catalog, Smart House is the unlikely futuristic family drama nobody knew we needed. [...] Smart House is the Disney Channel Original Movie perfected."
- Lindbergh, Ben (June 19, 2019). "What 'Smart House' Got Right—and Didn't—About the Future". The Ringer. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
- Pardes, Arielle (June 26, 2019). "The AI-Fueled, Anxious Hopefulness of Disney's Smart House". Wired. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
- Bacle, Ariana (December 1, 2015). "30 Disney Channel Original Movies, Ranked". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on June 20, 2016. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
- Bacle, Ariana (August 27, 2020). "33 Disney Channel Original Movies, Ranked". EW.com. Archived from the original on 2020-12-05. Retrieved 2020-12-05.
- Page, Aubrey (May 26, 2016). "Every Disney Channel Original Movie, Ranked". Collider. Retrieved June 8, 2016.