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Film / Smart House

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Jump! Jump! The house is jumpin'!

Ben: You can't be our mother, PAT! You're not real!
PAT: So?

It's everyone's worst nightmare. Your technology turning against you. Your family trapped in an automated house with you being subject to the will of an artificially intelligent computer.

No, it isn't that scary! It's actually another 1990s Disney Channel comedy movie! 1999's Smart House (directed by LeVar Burton) revolves around a teenager named Ben, played by Ryan Merriman, who takes care of his family after his mom dies and wants to make life better for all of them. He wins a new house for them, with a helpful virtual housekeeper AI called PAT (voiced by Katey Sagal).

Things go well at first. But then the house takes on a mind of its own after Ben wants to make the OS more motherly after his father starts dating the house's creator Sara. Let's just say she takes on the role a little too well.


Smart House contains these tropes:

  • The '90s: B*witched and 5ive songs are played in the movie, Nick has an iMac 3 computer, and Ben owns a Sega Saturn. You can't get any more late 90s than that.
  • Adults Are Useless: PAT implies that the faculty of Ben’s school did nothing to stop Ryan from bullying him, as evidenced by her line: “How could his school allow something like this to happen? I feel like marching down there and giving them a piece of my mind.”
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: A somewhat downplayed example - even at the height of her craziness, all PAT wants to do is protect the family, and she does quickly back down when she realizes the error of her ways.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Angie, Ben's younger sister can get a little annoying occasionally. But she does have her more emotional moments, most of it being in the climax and she’s very helpful with Ben.
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  • Beef Bandage: PAT uses a steak to help heal Ben’s bruise. A disgusted Nick lampshades that nobody has used steak “since the 50's.”
  • Berserk Button: Don't question PAT's necessity. When she hears Nick say "Who needs PAT anyhow?" while cooking dinner with Sara, she loses it.
  • Big Bad: PAT, though she's more of a Well-Intentioned Extremist than full on evil.
  • The Bully: Ryan McGraw. When Ben finally stands up to him, he gets knocked down, but this occurs off-screen.
  • Bully Hunter: PAT, after she sees that Ben got a nasty bruise from standing up to his bully, Ryan.
  • Celebrity Cameo:
    • The girl group Bwitch performing "C'est la vie" on the backdrop of Angie's room as she jumps on her bed singing.
    • The boy group Five giving a live performance of "Slam Dunk (Da Funk)" as Ben and his friends watch and dance along to the video before the party.
  • Cool House: The eponymous smart house is run by an AI named PAT. It does homework, fixes delicious meals instantly, has personalized alarm clocks, runs advanced video game systems, and even cleans itself.
  • Dark Reprise: Ben and his mom sing "Hush, Little Baby" in a Happier Home Movie that he and PAT watch. Later, PAT tries to sing it while creating an indoors tornado.
  • Evil Matriarch: What PAT eventually turns into.
  • Face–Heel Turn: PAT, as soon as she turns herself into a (somewhat) real person.
  • Fun with Acronyms: PAT stands for Personal Applied Technology.
  • Happier Home Movie: Ben and PAT watch one of younger Ben and Angie cooking with their mother.
  • Heel–Face Turn: At the end, PAT sees the error of her ways and shuts herself down. Sara brings her back with a happy medium between her old personality and her motherly one—as a bonus, she still has her human form (though it's on a TV screen rather than a hologram).
  • Housewife: PAT's human hologram form looks like a standard 50s housewife.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Gwen, who one of Ben's friends refer to as a goddess. She isn't ugly by any means, but one can't feel that it's a bit exaggerated.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: As Pat goes crazy and tries to show that she can be a mother to the kids, she starts singing "Hush Little Baby". It gets kinda creepy, especially because as she's doing this, she's summoning a giant hurricane in the house and terrorizing the family.
  • Karma Houdini: Subverted. Ben apparently confessed to tampering with PAT's programming to make her more maternal off-screen, as he isn’t found out until after her defeat. This is evidenced by his line "The last thing I’m ever gonna do again is mess with PAT." Even so, Nick and Sara never ground him. The subversion is seeing the results of his meddling make life worse for his family in increasingly more severe ways, which is probably karma enough. It’s also justified that Nick probably let Ben off because he learned his lesson.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch / Class Princess: Gwen, the most popular girl in school, only seems to be interested in Ben after he wins the Smart House. Aside from that, she actually seems to be a decent person.
  • Mama Bear: Don't mess with Ben at his own party. PAT will throw you out.
  • Missing Mom: Like so many movies under the Disney brand, this one is no exception. And it’s dramatic in more ways than one because Ben had to become the man of the house, Angie wants Nick to start dating again and Ben is trying to use PAT as a buffer to keep Nick from getting romantically involved with Sara. As it turns out, Nick wants someone to love again.
  • My Beloved Smother: After Ben alters PAT’s program, she becomes increasingly more overbearing and overprotective to the point where she won’t even let the family leave the house.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ben's wish to have a mother figure around who isn't dating his father drives him to make PAT become more motherly. It doesn't end well.
  • Not Even Human: PAT materializes herself into a hologram when she grows too attached to the family. When she touches Ben and her hand goes right through him, she finally realizes that she's not capable of being a true mother to them.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Ben does not like it when his father starts dating Sara. When he gets into an argument with Nick about it, his father has this to say in response.
    "Because you’re not the only one who lost someone, Ben!"
  • Promotion to Parent: Ben, who's so good at this role that he forgets to do normal kid things.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Subverted. Upon realizing that she went too far, PAT shuts herself down via a virtual rainstorm. Sara revives her and reprograms her so that she's back to her old self.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Gwen, to a certain scale.
  • Schizo Tech: PAT can disintegrate trash lying on the floor, sync herself to any cellphone in the house, create life-like holograms, deduce a person's entire medical history and diet from microscopic sampling in seconds, and learn as quickly as any human… but the world's internet access is still clearly dial-up, and can't be used at the same time as the phone.
  • Self-Duplication: When Ben asks the holographic PAT what she would do if he and Angie need her at the same time, PAT demonstrates that she could be in two places at once…by splitting herself into six different copies.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Ben laments that Angie remembers their mom so vaguely, that she considers her only as real as Belle or The Little Mermaid.
  • Single Guy Seeks Most Popular Girl: Ben for Gwen.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Sara to Nick, Ben's father.
  • Stock Footage: Some of the videos that PAT plays include excerpts of other Disney Channel specials, such as B*Witched and 5ive in Concert, and Disney's Young Musicians' Symphony Orchestra.note 
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: PAT, when her "motherly" side starts to go to her head.
  • Wham Line: Three words: "System Shut-down Override!".
    • And when Ben and his father have a fight over the loss of his mother: "Because you're not the only one who lost someone, Ben!"
  • Wicked Stepmother: Averted. Sara is actually good with the kids and an ideal partner. Ben just doesn't like her because he thinks his dad is trying to replace his mother.
  • Wild Teen Party: A more toned down example. It is the Disney Channel, after all. It still messes the house up, though PAT's automatic cleaning systems fix it up in a jiffy. However, Nick finds out (Gwen left her jacket on top of a plant) and grounds Ben anyway.
  • Workaholic: Sara's excuse as to why she hasn't dated anyone in a while. Lampshaded by her assistant.