Home is a colorful and entertaining CGI adventure, but weighed down by an uneven and shallow story, falls short of animated greatness.
Home tells the story of Oh (Jim Parsons) and Gratuity 'Tip' Tucci (Rihanna) - an absentminded extra terrestrial and a determined human girl, respectively - who are forced to strike a reluctant friendship. On the run from their longtime enemy, the Gorg, Oh and his fellow aliens, the Boov, take refuge on Earth. Under the assumption that they are helping "primitive" earthlings, instead of outright stealing the planet, the Boov move into cities around the world - and relocate humanity to a massive suburban settlement in Australia.
However, during the relocation Tip is separated from her mother (Jennifer Lopez) and Oh becomes a Boov fugitive (after accidentally sending a locater signal to the Gorg fleet). Following a chance encounter, and despite some initial mistrust, the pair join forces to locate Tip's mother and prevent the Gorg from reaching Earth - all while avoiding detection by the Boov and their leader Captain Smek (Steve Martin).
Based on the 2007 children's book The True Meaning of Smekday (by Adam Rex), Home is a colorful and entertaining CGI adventure, but weighed down by an uneven and shallow story, falls short of animated greatness. Director Tim Johnson is an animation veteran, with directing credit on Antz and Over the Hedge, not to mention serving as a How To Train Your Dragon executive producer; however, Home ultimately falls in a watery middle-ground (more Over the Hedge than Antz) - delivering silly and heartfelt fun for younger viewers without much to offer animation loving adults. The film touches on some serious topics but the majority of Home's runtime is style over substance - punctuated by some highs (cute moments and zany gags) as well as lows (distracting use of Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez musical tracks).
Like countless lonely alien-meets-precocious kid stories before it, Home presents a sweet story of self-discovery and friendship but does little to evolve the framework and provide a lasting impression. In a time when audiences are treated to eye-popping animation and risky (but impactful) storytelling in the Toy Story, Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, and Monsters, Inc. series, among others, Home falls short in nearly every way imaginable. The film includes fun ideas and some creative visual moments but, in general, Johnson's latest movie is dated looking, with stiff animations, flavorless style, and only passable voice acting - failing to distinguish Oh's story in any substantial way.
The filmmakers come up with clever ideas for how Oh and the Boov interact with the human world, as well as within their own society, and scenes of the aliens responding to Earth customs and objects offer many of Home's biggest laughs. To that end, Oh is an enjoyable leading man and Parson's nasally voice is a solid match for his animated purple protagonist. Kids will relish in Oh's silly (Yoda-like) wordplay but there's a sincerity to the character, and Parson's vocal work, that elevates Oh above standard CGI alien cliches.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for Rihanna's Tip. In spite of a heavy-hand from the writers and director, Home's human protagonist isn't nearly as interesting or emotionally engaging as her alien counterpart. Johnson likely had bigger plans for Tip, with hints at larger struggles with teenage insecurity and social rejection, but only focuses on Tip's desperation to reunite with her mother. It's clear the filmmakers wanted to draw parallels between the pair of "outsiders"; yet, with a priority to keep the plot and gags rolling on, Home simply does not spend enough time developing the connections to deliver thoughtful payoff.
Audiences are afforded a clear look at Oh's role within Boov society but Johnson only gives passing reference to Tip's troubled life from before the alien invasion. Instead, the connection between Oh and Tip is fleshed out through melodramatic scenes of exposition with little subtlety - borrowing from superior stories of alien + kid friendship (explored countless times before on film). As a result, Tip's mindset (which shows potential for a deeper story arc) is left underdeveloped - presumably to make room for the Boov's incompetent leader, Captain Smek, to inject a steady stream of slapstick visual gags into the mix.
Like most animated films, Home is playing in 3D and while there are some fun sequences where the depth adds immersion, most moviegoers should have no problem skipping the premium up-charge this time. As indicated, Home simply isn't as visually inventive as many of its contemporaries - leaving little little space for unique implementation of 3D.
Without question, kids will relish in Home's colorful world and the quirky cast of Boov aliens. Oh is a charming central character, with loads of merchandising potential for DreamWorks Animation, but Johnson simply does not apply the same creativity to the movie's teen girl co-star. Instead, the plot gets trapped in a clumsy reversal - wherein Home's bumbling extra terrestrial hero and story of redemption is actually more relatable than his human counterpart and her journey of self-determination.
In the end, Home is a jumbled mix of clever ideas but overstuffed with distracting pop songs (via two out of four members from the film's central cast) and short on the restraint necessary to balance cartoon antics with affecting character drama - at least for anyone over the age of ten.
Home runs 94 minutes and is Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
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