- RatedG /GenreAdventure, Animation, Fantasy
Hey 'Home', E.T. called — he wants his huggable-alien concept back.
Introduced in the film’s opening seconds, when he bumps that little boy with the fishing rod from the DreamWorks Animation logo, over-eager alien invader Oh represents Jeffrey Katzenberg’s best hope at harnessing some of his old pal Steven Spielberg’s intergalactic buddy-movie mojo.
Unimaginative and downright predictable by grown-up standards, but bursting with elements sure to appeal to a younger audience — including cutesy character design, quotable alien catchphrases and solid musical/vocal contributions from Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez, who add a dose of diversity to the human cast — DreamWorks’s lone 2015 feature release should manage to squeak past the US$100 million mark during a relatively competition-free spring, while reinforcing the studio’s recent standing as the Pepsi of the animation world: It’s potable, but a distant second to the real thing.
Still smarting from the dual blows of a 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' Oscar loss and the closure of its Northern California-based division, the publicly traded studio desperately needs a hit right now, and 'Home' is more of a bunt, one that hardly seems enough to satisfy investors until 'Kung Fu Panda 3' opens this time next year.
From a creative standpoint, this is the studio’s least exciting feature yet — hardly its worst, execution-wise, but entirely lacking in the risk-taking spirit that has spawned such successful franchises as 'Shrek', 'Kung Fu Panda' and 'Dragon'.
'Home' hews close to formula by defaulting to the studio’s favourite lesson: that misfits aren’t losers, but merely those who haven’t managed to figure out how or where they belong — a by-now-threadbare moral recycled one too many times since its first computer-generated toon, 'Antz'.
Oh (left, voiced by Jim Parsons) and Tip (Rihanna) | Photo: 20th Century Fox
As it happens, 'Home' was also helmed by Tim Johnson (who co-directed 'Antz' with Eric Darnell), who takes a similar approach to Adam Rex’s children-literature novel 'The True Meaning of Smekday', in which an oddball alien (voiced by Jim Parsons from TV's 'The Big Bang Theory') befriends a lonely girl, Tip (Rihanna), while the rest of the world freaks out around them.
Whereas Rex’s irreverent book comes loaded with pop-culture references, the adaptation tones down that kind of humour in favour of more situation- and character-dependent gags.
It’s a welcome change, although 'Smekday' devotees will surely appreciate that they managed to convince Lopez to lend her voice to the film, considering she was the butt of one of the book’s best jokes, in which the character now called “Oh” was known as “J.Lo”.
Oh is the lone individual among his race of conformist aliens, the Boov, who dutifully follow the teachings of a goofy leader named Smek (Steve Martin). Naturally cautious, the Boov are “the best species at running away”, which has served them well in an ongoing battle with their most dangerous rivals, the Gorg, and now leads them to target Earth as the next planet to colonise — except it’s already inhabited.
Rather than give children nightmares about extraterrestrial threats, 'Home' presents the most benign alien invasion one could imagine, in which these adorable outer-space intruders float in on soap bubble-like pods, slurping up all the humans via giant vacuum tubes, and relocating them to amusement park-style communities in Australia.
They’re not that interesting as a species, at least not compared with 'Despicable Me’s' Minions or 'Toy Story’s' three-eyed aliens. With motormouth Oh doing most of the talking, the Boov communicate using a weird form of pidgin English that lacks Yoda’s charming reverse syntax, more closely resembling the way Jar Jar Binks butchered the language. Given that chidlren seem to have a higher tolerance than adults for funny voices and facile wordplay, they may well be amused by Parsons’ grating performance.
While on the run, Oh stumbles upon the lone human overlooked during the mass relocation, 12-year-old Tip, along with her pet cat, Pig. At first, the young girl rebuffs Oh, seeing as how his species was responsible for kidnapping her mother (Lopez).
Smek (voiced by Steve Martin) | Photo: 20th Century Fox
But 'Home' relies on a hefty suspension of human logic, one in which the understandably wary Tip inexplicably warms to Oh, while the rest of mankind adapt to their relocated status without fuss.
And while the script plays out in obvious fashion, Johnson has clearly encouraged a level of improvisation and experimentation in the performances, whether that means allowing Parsons to riff in Oh’s odd language or giving the animators room to loosen up their characters.
Rihanna did double duty on the film, also helping to shape its soundtrack by contributing several songs and advising on the picture’s overall groove.
Where Parsons’ performance is a love-it-or-leave-it ordeal, Rihanna’s comes as a pleasant surprise. Alternately vulnerable and strong, she supplies just the right degree of independence to Tip’s personality.
Though both she and Lopez have been accused of lightening their skin and pushing their sexuality in their music careers, their animated counterparts seem empowered by their big hips and brown complexions (not unlike the Hawaiian gals in Disney’s offbeat alien toon 'Lilo & Stitch'), setting a positive example through their appearance and actions — whereas Oh’s consistently reckless behaviour ought to come with a warning: Don’t try this at home.
'Home' opens 26 March 2015