DreamWorks Phones Home

New animated film is a tale of extra-friendly extra-terrestrials


The cuddliest alien invasion movie ever, Home contains nifty turns of phrase and some actual, verifiable verbal wit, owing in large part to its source material, Adam Rex’s 2007 children’s book The True Meaning of Smekday.

In the grand Hollywood tradition, DreamWorks Animation threw out most of that book (and the film’s original title, Happy Smekday!) after optioning the property seven years ago. Even though screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember over-pack the revised storyline, they get some crucial aspects right. The movie is pretty droll, and it agitates for cross-species friendship; its aggressively packaged heart-tugging elements come with an interplanetary friendly resolution. Followed by a dance party.

Does it matter that Home has the generically antiseptic look and busyness of dozens of other DreamWorks projects? Sure, it matters. When the animation of a big-budget animated feature is nothing special, whatever the target audience makes of it, it’s like an ozone layer of timidity. Until one of the major houses, including Pixar, works up the nerve to develop and release more features guided by a bold visual approach, even (or especially) if the boldness translates to subtlety, we’ll be seeing the same sorts of grandiose action sequences, the same massive-eyed darlings as protagonists, the same freneticism posing as creative energy.

Home has some of these drawbacks, but fewer than usual. Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory voices Oh, the sweet-natured misfit alien who belongs to the Boov race distinguished by squiggly little legs, advanced technology and fealty to idiot ruler Captain Smek (Steve Martin, taking it easy). The Boovs are wimps, perpetually relocating around the universe to avoid being attacked by the Gorgs. In the prologue, we see how the Boovs colonize Earth and confine, without bloodshed, the humans to Australia and other locations.

No blood, but plenty of loss. It’s not easy being the teenage girl named Tip (voice by Rihanna) when your mother (Jennifer Lopez) is alien-abducted and relocated, and all you have is a cat named Pig for company. Home brings Tip and Oh together, and after a long, fractious introduction they become friends and hit the road to find Tip’s mom. Oh is tracked as a fugitive from his own conformity-mad race, after mistakenly sending a “warming of house party” Evite to the entire universe, including the dreaded Gorgs.

Parsons makes hay on Oh’s Yoda-like inversions of phrasing. Example: “You has in nick-time saved us!” The soundtrack, meantime, makes hay on the power ballads sung by Rihanna. Director Tim Johnson has worked on better films (How to Train Your Dragon) and worse (he co-directed Antz), but he knows how to put one of these things together. The details click, such as Oh tricking out Tip’s car (underage driving! ack!) as a convenience store-inspired hovercraft powered by Icee-type slush machines. Any movie featuring a hovercraft that shoots microwave burritos at adversaries is OK with me. As for Lopez’s involvement in Home, well, that was fated: In Rex’s book, the sympathetic alien wasn’t named Oh; he was named J.Lo. True story. Home, for the record, is not, but I brought a couple of my kids, who liked it fine and found the friendship at the center rather affecting.

Home (PG): ★★★✩✩

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