DreamWorks Animation/20th Century Fox
Rated PG for mild thematic elements.
Running time: 93 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.
A few quick thoughts on “Home,” which I inadvertently have seen twice now in less than a week:
1. The first time I saw it was by myself at a screening; the second time was with my 5-year-old son at a matinee.
2. I liked it vaguely better the second time, just because taking Nicolas to the movies is so much fun.
3. Having said that, it still isn’t very good.
I mean, it’s fine. It’s pretty, with a palette of Easter-egg shades that’s wildly colorful and vibrant. The characters are lively and sporadically amusing. And the fact that its lead character is a strong and brave pre-teen girl — of color, no less — is no small feat.
But man, there is just not much here in terms of story. This is an especially glaring omission given that, over the past couple decades of animated films, we’ve come to expect cleverly detailed and complex narratives which work on multiple levels for every possible viewer. Some of them — such as “WALL-E” and “The Lego Movie” — actually are more effective for the adults in the audience than the children, I’d say. “Home,” however, is purely for kids.
Speaking of superior animated films, “Home” feels like a rip-off of 2002’s “Lilo & Stitch,” even though the source material is the 2007 children’s book “The True Meaning of Smekday” by Adam Rex. Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before: A girl befriends a cutely goofy space alien who’s a fugitive being chased by his own kind. In the process, both learn the true meaning of friendship and family.
Heartwarming and harmless? Sure, why not. But it’s also numbing in its simplicity and often rather annoying. The primary culprit in this regard is Jim Parsons, the usually likable, multiple Emmy-winning star of “The Big Bang Theory.” Here, he lends his perky, guileless twang to the alien Oh, a member of the blob-like, multi-hued Boov race. The Boov are anti-social and hardworking, and their primary trait is fleeing in terror at the first sign of trouble. Their leader is the pompous and preening Smek (voiced by Steve Martin), who’s the best of all at running and hiding.
Oh, meanwhile, is an outlier. He is sunny and friendly. But his awkward attempts at connecting with others actually make him more of a pariah. This is especially true when the Boov invade their latest planet — Earth — in hopes of escaping the Gorg, monstrous creatures resembling refugees from a Gwar concert who are constantly chasing them. But it’s hard to blame his fellow Boov for blowing him off. Oh means well but he’s painfully ingratiating, and his method of speaking — a mix of mangled English and malapropisms — clangs on the ear from the start. (“My hands are in the air like I just do not care!” he declares when he discovers dancing.) He may call to mind the cuddly Om Nom from the “Cut the Rope” video game, but when he opens his mouth, out pops Jar Jar Binks.
Still, he finds an unlikely ally in seventh-grader Gratuity Tucci (Rihanna), whose friends call her Tip. Tip has been all alone ever since her mother, Lucy (Jennifer Lopez), was sucked up into a spaceship alongside the rest of the human race and sent off to live in Australia. But she’s managed to hide and survive with her pet cat, a calico named Pig. While the character’s resourcefulness is appealing, Rihanna’s delivery is pretty flat, and the inclusion of several of her songs on the soundtrack makes “Home” feel like an unwelcome infomercial for the pop superstar.
The two end up on the run together for reasons I won’t go into here. The bond they supposedly forge is the crucial thing, but it never feels terribly compelling in the film from director Tim Johnson (“Antz,” “Over the Hedge”), based on a script by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember. Similarly, there’s never any sense of real tension in their shared adventure, despite the fact that the fate of Tip’s family — and the entire planet — are at stake. Everything is so darn peppy and glossy.
The most intriguing element of the whole movie reveals itself at the very end, when we find out who the Gorg actually are and what they’ve wanted all this time. I wouldn’t dream of giving the secret away. But I want to see a movie about them instead.