The harshest critique I can give DreamWorks’ Home is that most of its themes aren’t all that new for animated films these days. An optimistic misfit has a chance meeting with an unexpected new partner, and together they try to save the world while learning the value of friendship. In the wake of more daring movie toons like the bombastic Frozen, the quick witted Lego Movie and Big Hero 6 with its gutwrenching emotional moments, that seems a bit quaint in comparison. I can only imagine how huge this movie would have been if it came out ten years ago.
Home is much more focused on likability than it is on taking risks. And luckily Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory infamy lends a bit of charm to Oh, a short purple alien who is an outcast among his species named the Boov.
Led by the egotistical and incompetent Captain Smek (Steve Martin, hamming it up), the Boov have mastered light speed space travel and highly advanced technology, all with an interesting looking bubble motif. What they haven’t mastered is the concept of egalitarianism, as they don’t think enough of humans to reconsider transplanting them to Australia to live in Boov-built colonies while the invaders occupy the empty human cities.
The Boov are a generally standfoffish species, and when Oh sends out a party invite via homing beacon in a desperate bid to make friends, he accidently signals a fearsome alien warrior named Gorg, who is in search of Captain Smek’s royal scepter. While hiding from a mob of understandably terrified and angry Boov, he finds his way into a convenience store and meets up with a plucky tween girl named “Tip” Tucci.
Tip is played by Rihanna (who also sings the soundtrack) in a surprisingly good performance despite giving her the deepest voice for an adolescent girl you’ve ever heard in your life. Oh earns her trust by transforming her missing mother’s car (voiced by Jennifer Lopez, a casting in-joke for fans of the book) into a slushie powered flying contraption, and the two friends along with her long suffering cat head off on their advertised adventure.
The visuals along the way are some of the more video game-esque I’ve seen since Wreck-It Ralph. The Boov have a compact and colorful design that makes them look like they escaped from a game on someone’s mobile device, while Gorg could be mistaken for your typical Gears Of War enemy.
I wound up liking the second half of Home over the first. Early on the film is filled with manic energy and a barrage of (hit or miss) gags along with the requisite wacky misunderstandings, and this is the portion I think younger viewers will enjoy the most. Once Oh and Tip are done arguing and hiding from Boov police, their relationship stars to grow and the plot paces itself more. The atmosphere never stops being silly, but a degree of tension started building enough to where I and most of the audience could empathize with the main duo, and the payoff is pretty thoughtful. *sings* They found love in a hopeless place…in a hopeless plaaaace…
Tip as a character is a decent enough heroine, and while I think Oh will probably be too sugar-high and goofy in his behavior to win over a lot of older moviegoers, Parsons plays him with a degree of innocence and kindness, and he eventually grows from a bumbling idiot to a believable hero.
There’s arguably an underlying analogy to European colonization in the way Oh’s people treat humans, but Home is more concerned with making its audience- kids especially- feel warm and fuzzy than it is with digging as deep into its themes as many other cartoons do lately. Though it’s not in the league of Disney and Pixar’s recent output, it’s a cute enough family film that’s a bit more dignified than it’s advertised.