I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating in the face of DreamWorks’ newest feature, Home: I’m really pretty bad at this film-critic thing. I think movies should be evaluated, to a considerable extent, on the basis of how well they achieve whatever it is they’ve set out to do. Consequently, I’ve got this weird sliding scale in my head that somehow puts Citizen Kane on pretty much equal footing with, say, Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare, at least in terms of delivering the goods.
First things first, then: Home, based on Adam Rex’s critically praised 2007 book The True Meaning of Smekday, is a movie aimed at kids and kids will love it, so I guess that’s worth a lot. The pacing is zippy, the characters are nice, and it speaks to the challenges of making your way in a world that always seems to be changing the rules just when you think you’ve got them figured out.
I just wish it could be, well, better. Surely we’re long past the notion that kids’ movies can’t be just as satisfying for adults as they are for their target demographic, so it’s disappointing that Home is content to rely on a flimsy story and worn-out clichés.
The plot centers on Oh, a member of a race of planet-hopping aliens called the Boov. The Boov have some admirable qualities—they’ve quite handy, and their technology is based on a cool knack for manipulating gravity—but bravery isn’t among them. They are “the best species ever at running away,” and that’s what they’re doing when they invade Earth and relocate all the people to a carnival-themed prison camp called Happy Humanstown.
Oh (voice of Jim Parsons) is already disliked by his fellow Boov, mainly for his relentless and very unBoovian determination to make friends and socialize, but he becomes public enemy number one when he accidentally sends a party evite to everyone in the universe—including the Gorg, a race that seems determined to eradicate the Boov. Parsons essentially plays his Big Bang Theory character and keeps the Sheldon-osity dialed up to 11 throughout the film, so his performance will either keep you laughing or eventually make you wish you were dead. Either way, it does have its moments.
Far more appealing than Oh, though, is his eventual human foil: a middle-school girl named Gratuity “Tip” Tucci (voice of Rihanna), who was separated from her mother when the latter was sucked up by a Boovian vacuum ship and plopped into Happy Humanstown. Oh wants to make his way to the Boovian headquarters to correct his mistake before the Boovs’ new address is beamed to the Gorg, and Tip wants to find her mom. The two reluctantly team up and embark on a road trip, during which many lessons are learned.
Home is pleasant enough, and it certainly means well. Oh is a forgettable rehash of all the cuddly, extraterrestrial misfits that have come before him, but the movie is on to something with the smart, capable, and very charming Tip. Not only is she a person of color, she’s a girl who’s good at math, and the daughter of a single mom who has immigrated to the U.S. from Barbados. Rihanna turns in a solid voice performance, and Tip earns Home quite a lot of good will.
She really deserves a better movie. Home never gels into anything approaching an immersive experience for its grownup viewers, either from a narrative perspective or a visual one. No complaints about the animation itself—these days, is there any group in Hollywood that’s more reliably capable than working animators?—but Home doesn’t stake out any territory of its own and relies on recycled elements from better movies. (Lilo & Stitch seems particularly influential.) From plot to character design, it all just seems too familiar and obvious.
Maybe I’m expecting too much (or maybe Pixar has just ruined it for everybody), but I don’t think so. Home gets a pass for the tykes; it’s sweet and harmless, and kids will appreciate the remarkable amount of screen time dedicated to toilet jokes. But, from an adult perspective, the bar is high for animated features, and Home falls short.
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