Disney+'s'' 'Cheaper By the Dozen''' Reboot Presents an Idealized Version of the Blended Family Dynamic

While updated for 2022, Disney+’s 'Cheaper By the Dozen' remake is a sweet must-watch for family movie night, offering a light touch on discussions about race and blended family conflicts.

Cheaper by the Dozen cast
Photo: Disney+ | 20th Century Studios

The third remake of Cheaper by the Dozen is the franchise's most accurate and inclusive depiction of family life yet—with a nontraditional twist. In an instant, divorced parents Paul and Zoey, played by Zach Braff and Gabrielle Union, fall in love and become an interracial couple. The Bakers' big, beautiful, blended bunch includes Paul's two daughters, one who uses a wheelchair, an adopted son of South Asian descent, and Zoey's daughter and son. Together, Paul and Zoey birth two sets of twins, and rounding out their dozen is Paul's troubled nephew.

This story is a fairytale version of a blended family. There are no custody wars, parental alienation, or child support fights. The closest thing to the "bitter ex" was when Zoey's ex-husband, Dom, and new husband Paul have a cute back and forth during their daughters' basketball game. Biodad and stepdad's competitive scene results in a wholesome half-court dance battle.

Paul's aloof ex-wife, Katie, brings the exact opposite of baby mama drama as she is comfortably nestled in his new life and his new marital home! Slightly bothered by the harmless-enough intrusion, Zoey excuses Katie's constant presence in her home because she babysits all of their kids. Even the most emotionally intelligent people can only hope for this type of effortless blend, but the adults and the children seem to be exempt from the typical post-divorce grief that separated families can face.

Zoey's ex-husband is a newly retired professional athlete who spent much of his kids' childhood on the road. In an effort to assuage his dad guilt and to make up for time lost time, he buys expensive gifts that unintentionally upstage Paul's humble attempts at providing a decent home life for his family.

Paul and Zoey have amazing relationships with their stepchildren. In a heartfelt moment, Zoey's teenage son seeks Paul for dating advice instead of his dad. The hilarious moment of connection reveals why the kid wants to talk to Paul instead when he admits, "My dad is a tall, handsome, super-successful athlete. We have absolutely nothing in common. But me and you are average-looking, regular guys."

Ultimately though, even Zoey's ex-husband Dom is seamlessly woven into the family—but not without contributing to the films' attempt to squeeze in race relations and the discomfort that whiteness can place on the Black experience.

In one tense scene, Dom confronts Paul as "that clueless white dude who doesn't know how to raise my Black kids!" He also gets emotional as he shares the PTSD that both rich and poor Black American men face, being racially profiled by law enforcement. He goes on to explain that "DJ [a teen Black boy] is about to become a Black man who is going to be seen as a threat in this racist world no matter what he does."

It is obvious that Paul will never know the Black experience. But in a sappy monologue, he proclaims that he loves his Black stepchildren, his mixed biological children and he gets to be the nice white dude that calms the big angry Black guy.

When the Bakers' business starts to boom, they relocate from Los Angeles to their new mansion in a posh community. As they begin unloading their belongings, the neighborhood watch patrolman spots Gabrielle Union's character, Zoey, and tells her that the community has quiet hours after 10 p.m. She immediately checks him and calls out his bias. Totally oblivious to his harmful behavior, he offers a matter-of-fact apology and rolls away.

The neighborhood becomes a microcosm for how minorities can feel singled out even in spaces that they pay for. There are so many instances of the Black and brown people being antagonized and gaslit. The adopted Indian kid gets picked on and mistaken for a Middle Eastern person. The Karen of the neighborhood makes several racially insensitive statements that get excused. Upon meeting, she assumed that Zoey is her children's nanny and in the same breath, she assumes that the kids must be adopted. The scene was ultra-cringe, not just because it happens every day, but because none of the other women in the mom group put the woman in her place. Instead of confronting the insidious behavior, the character was jokingly written out because she moved to a more diverse city. The movie missed the mark in turning Black trauma into teachable moments for its white audience.

But the film did a good job of touching on the nuances of a family forging a tight circle of support around a member in crisis. Paul gets temporary custody of his sister's son after she goes back to rehab. The kid has a bit of trouble settling in because he has faced abandonment issues his entire life. In a dramatic moment, the boy runs away, and the entire family piles into two vehicles and appeals to the boy to come back home.

When Dom witnesses the grand display of love, he comes to his senses and realizes that his threat to seek full custody was not because the Bakers were incapable parents, but because his ego almost got the best of him. Ego can play a huge part in the typical blended family conflict, but this dad seemed to have a firm grip on accepting that his children are impacted by another father figure. Many parents do not realize that their children are totally capable of loving many parental figures.

This movie was cute. If you're looking for a film that skirts near the edge of wokeness, this is the one. There were quite a few conversation starters, safe segues into more in-depth conversations on race and inclusivity, and it gives the adult audience free rein to customize some very touchy topics with youth. It tapped on important subject matter while protecting the frail gaze of those who may not have signed up for a full-blown sociology lesson during family movie night. But the POC frequently felt like accessories strategically placed to exhibit struggle, conflict, and tease at topics nestled in the small space allotted for their stories.

In real life, a blended family is born because something did not work out. A divorce can feel like a death. It represents the separation of the original family unit and with death comes grief, but it can also represent a new beginning. In my experience as a Blended Family Coach, I have had the privilege of helping families navigate this difficult life transition. Emotions are usually high and unpredictable. Conflict is very real. And it takes time and intentional effort to rebuild what was once broken. Sometimes parents simply fail to center their children and they are unable to go from being lovers to effective co-parents. Reality isn't as pretty as a Disney movie but I appreciate the wholesome effort put forth to show a normal, interracial, blended family in a positive light.

I have not seen such real-life fairytales in my professional practice, but to be fair people do not call me because their blended family has matching t-shirts! I step in when the courts, lawyers, and mediators have drained their clients' pockets and sense of relief. I staff psychotherapists that diagnose the very personality disorders that usually lend to never-ending family drama. And I offer solutions for those at their wit's end. This movie delves into the absolute best-case scenario for a blended family.

If there were ever going to be a feel-good movie surrounding this otherwise uncomfortable topic, this one proves that lukewarm lessons go down easy. Being in a blended family is not for the faint of heart, but this movie makes it seem like we can all have a happy ending.

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