'Home' (Dreamworks)

Review: ‘Home’

'Home' (Dreamworks)
‘Home’ (Dreamworks)
Alien invaders have never been so darn cute!

Tiny balls of joy, the Boov are constantly on the run from the Gorg, their mortal enemies. The Boov have developed a modus operandi: they flee to a new planet, move the entire native population to a remote refugee camp, and then adapt the planet to their own taste. When the Gorg are inevitably sighted, the Boov abandon the planet before the Gorg destroy it, and start all over again.

Sounds like fun, right? And the aliens are so darn cute!

Adapted from The True Meaning of Smekday, a children’s book written and illustrated by Adam Rex, the animated film Home has taken certain liberties with its source material. For one thing, the lead alien is named Oh, rather than the book’s J. Lo. (Never fear, though, since J. Lo herself voices another character in the movie.) Certain other story elements have been changed as well, and, although I have not read the book, I could easily imagine that the tone of Home is different as well.

That’s because Home wants to be cute, aiming directly for an pre-adolescent audience, and so fills out its running time with a relentless display of cuteness, removing even a hint of menace. It’s a remarkable feat for a movie whose central idea is that aliens have herded all of mankind into an internment camp, where they will remain until they are destroyed along with their planet by another race of aliens.

The cushioning factor is that we know humanity will somehow be saved by its lead characters. Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons from TV’s Big Bang Theory) teams up with Gratuity Tucci (voiced by Rihanna), better known as Tip, who has avoided detection by the Boov and thus is the only free human remaining on the planet. She wants to be reunited with her mother Lucy (voiced by Jennifer Lopez), and so Oh agrees to help her in her search, which will also keep him safe from his people, since he has received a death sentence because he accidentally sent an email to the Gorg.

The plot should jerk tears. Oh is a classic innocent and also a stumblebum. He and his people lack any natural empathy for other races, which excuses their clueless behavior toward other living beings. Oh himself doesn’t mean to make so many mistakes that anger his people; really, though we never learn his age, he’s just like most kids, harshly blamed for doing things that don’t seem that serious.

Tip is another confusing story. The Boov are a very diminutive race, and Tip appears quite tall next to them. She drives a car, and has a very adult-sounding voice. She is very weepy about her separation from her mother, but that seems natural in view of the intimacy of the mother/daughter relationship and the general situation. Then, about halfway through the movie, she implies that she’s not yet 16 years of age! Slowly, her often-childish behavior makes more sense, because, all appearances and sounds aside, she is a kid. (In the book, she’s 11.)

The story is silly (for adult viewers) anyway, so the question about Tip’s age only further clouds the issue in a manner that’s not, perhaps, important for youngsters. Instead, it’s a reflection of the celebrity voice casting preferred by Dreamworks, which produced the movie. In their view, the popularity of the celebrity trumps any appropriateness of the casting, and so everyone pretends that Rihanna can sound like an 11-year-old girl; she cannot, but what does that matter in view of the potential marketing upside?

The same kind of philosophy extends to Home as a whole. Cast a very popular singer to play a young girl? Check. Recruit Steve Martin to voice Captain Smek, the leader of the Boov, and give him nothing remotely humorous to say? Check. Animate the heck out of the movie, filling the screen with gorgeous yet empty imagery? Check. Mitigate the more squeamish aspects of the story with an abundance of color and cutnesss? Check.

There’s no place like Home, which is a good thing, since this particular Home is entirely forgettable; no one will want to live there.

The film opens wide across Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, March 27.