Review: HOME, Awfully Sugary But Not Sweet
Back-burnering any trauma and horror of the human internment camps that it depicts (both off-world and in Australia), Home showcases an eye-poppingly wacky planetary occupation of Crayola proportions. The film's internal plausibility problems might not be so problematic if the whole experience was any thicker than the clear membranes of the bubble ships these aliens zip around in.
The invading race, known as the Boov, (because who could stay mad at such silly sounding conquerors?) talk like the Coneheads (Restroom break! "I too has to break pee!") and look like plastic Seattle fire hydrants. The movie wisely leaves out the scenes where gun-hording American militia guys blow these annoying creatures in half, holding their ground to the forceful end. Then again, maybe that claptrap would be the more watchable movie.
Digitally animated in 3D (of course) by the sugar-addled people at DreamWorks Animation, Home is yet another example of the kind of loud, obnoxious candy-colored studio pandering that all too often passes for children's entertainment. I've railed against this exhausting trend all too often, but apparently the statement must be made once again: Kids deserve better than this. Despite it's shuttle-load of celebrity voices and obvious care taken to make this adventure feel oh-so-clever, Home is a pacifier, devoid of sustenance.
The alien race, led by the beloved but actually despotically hammy Captain Smek, (voiced by Steve Martin, who's wild-and-crazy has never been so lame) opts to invade and take over the Earth. They're a kooky bunch, to be sure, but you know, not so unlike you and I. For example, they also use tablet devices, have individual passwords on all their apps, and once their email is sent, it's sent - no retractions!! The difference is that their tablet devices are round, like the ships they fly around in. (Ah, design cohesion! I wonder if the concept people sat in day-glo bean bag chairs when they pitched all of this to the directors.)
Within the Boov race, conformity is key. Which I suppose explains why Oh (voice of Jim Parsons), who is, you know, different, is persona non grata with everyone else. (His name derives from the groaned reaction he evokes from others when he shows up. "Ohhhh..." It's in the trailer.) Poor Oh, no one will come to his parties, no one will even stay in the same room when he's around. Frankly, and not to be mean (this comes from a lifelong dejected non-conformist), but I don't blame them. At the one hour point of spending nothing but time with this critter, there was a mass exodus of grown-ups from the auditorium. Bathrooms, check our phones, just wander the lobby for a few minutes, whatever! We honestly needed a break.
So anyway, stop me if you've heard this one: Oh is enterprising and outgoing, but he just doesn't fit into the conformist society he's a part of. One day, he does something that although perfectly well-intentioned, is a doomsday threat to his entire people group. Hated and outcast for that, he sets off to right his wrong. He makes a new friend (a latino tween named Tip, voiced by the singer Rihanna - still smarting from her last stupid alien invasion, Battleship). Adventure ensues! And, that's the point where Home stops copping the plot of A Bug's Life, just short of when that film starts copping the plot of The Three Amigos.
Somewhere in all of this, there's an intended heartfelt story about two dissimilar characters bonding over their inability to fit in, and their quest to find Tip's rounded-up mother (Jennifer Lopez). This much-needed streak of humanity isn't a complete failure, but it does come too late in the game to register as one of Home's priorities. As it is, this element falls somewhere in between showcasing the umpteen Rihanna songs on the film's soundtrack, and not explaining why the heck the recognizable landmarks have been uprooted to hover within the sky. (A bemused, perplexed fellow critic and I failed to figure that one out.)
It might be easier to be more forgiving of Home if DreamWorks Animation hasn't been in the game for twenty-plus years. From the admirable Kung-Fu Pandas to the declining Shrek series to that race car snail movie, they've been regularly churning out sequels and original work of the let's-see-what-sticks variety. If only by virtue of this longevity, surviving where their namesake studio proper didn't, it's understandable that Disney/Pixar would be considered their greatest rival. But stop-gap efforts like Home have no business in such an arena. It's the incessant, grating, time-killing vibrant sass of Disney Channel programming that this film and others like it are competing with.
Kids will watch anything, and even claim to enjoy it all. But they know the difference. At the end of the day, it's Woody, Buzz, and even Flick the ant who are going home. These hip-hopping aliens can go Boov themselves.