It’s hard to imagine that a colourfully individualistic member of an invasive technologically highly-advanced but socially-awkward alien race, who have just picked Earth as their new home (no, humanity, as usual, was not consulted), and a small girl sheltering with her cat in an unnamed city from said extra terrestrial invaders, would have very much in common.
But in director Tim Johnson’s Home, the latest animation release from Dreamworks based on Adam Rex’s 2007 book The True Meaning of Smekday, these two highly unlikely characters come together, after a few misunderstandings naturally – one of which involves the alien Oh (Jim Parsons) being locked in a convenience store fridge by Rihanna’s Gratuity Tucci or “Tip” until he convinces to let him back in the “Out” – and discover that they are more alike than either might have ever imagined.
Both Oh – so-called because every one of his fellow aliens known collectively as the Boov greet him with a world weary, groan-heavy deeply-resigned “Oh …” when they see him; he is of course oblivious to the fact that no one really like him thanks to his most un-Boov-like joie de vivre – and Tip are outsiders, social outliers who find in each other a sense of belonging that evaded them among their own kind.
In Oh’s case, his penchant for individualism, for sucking the marrow out of life in his own uniquely exuberant way, puts him at odds with the rest of the cowardly, conformist insipid Boov who have spent eons running from planet to planet in a usually unsuccessful attempt to avoid their mortal enemy, the towering, flame-eyed Gorg who always seem to find them eventually.
Theirs is a society built on taking orders from the top, from the pompously inept but officious-sounding Captain Smek (Steve Martin in fine form), whose sole role is to think, rather poorly it must be said, for every single one of his unadventurous subjects, none of whom would dare think of questioning his often dubious decision-making (even though they really, really should).
Oh isn’t necessarily trying to set himself apart from the mood ring-like colour-changing herd; in fact much of his energy is expended trying to fit in with his fellow Boov, all of whom sadly regard his unfailingly upbeat attempts to invite them to parties and engage them in conversation as affronts to the Boov creed of social isolation (even as they, ironically, move in one unthinking herd).
Tip, an immigrant to an inner city American city from Barbados with her mother Lucy (Jennifer Lopez), who was rounded up with all the other humans during the Boov’s comically-efficient invasion and deposited in hilariously Stepford Wives-like suburban enclaves in southern Australia, is also finding it hard to fit into her new surrounds.
With her cat Pig her only real company and any friendships with her contemporaries hard won and tenuous, Tip is annoyed to find herself even more alone in this brave new Boov-infested world, taking out her frustrations, understandably enough, on Oh when she first encounters him in a convenience store where he is hiding from Boov authorities, who are furious that his latest party invite has actually gone galaxy-wide, including to their trenchant enemy, the Gorg. who will once again know exactly where their hapless quarry is hiding.
But after Oh fits out her car with the latest in Slushilicious-powered Boov flying technology and nachos-equipped weaponry – see all that faux-food is good for something – they initially form a mutually-beneficial friendship of circumstance and set off to right Oh’s latest mistake and find Tip’s mother on one of the oddest and yet most touching road trips you’re likely to see in any movie.
It’s this growing friendship between two utterly different but more alike than they know characters that forms the central beating of Home, and is responsible for lifting what is a fairly pedestrian quest narrative into something remarkably fresh, vibrant and funny.
Much of the success of the movie in fact lies with Parsons and Rihanna, who invest each of their characters with just the right of personality and social smarts – admittedly Oh is a little behind in the latter area but quickly catches up over the course of the movie thanks to Tip’s instruction – to make their relationship seem sweet and believable, and thanks to a steady stream of winning oneliners, consistently amusing.
The artwork too is highly imaginative, with a great deal of attention paid to the undulating, colourful physiology of the Boov – they change colour depending on their emotional state or state of mind; Oh for instance turns green when he lies and yellow when he is afraid – their inventive technology and visual sight gags aplenty such as the Boov’s propensity for gathering up human technology they deem surplus to requirements such as toilets and bikes.
Many of Earth’s great monuments are also sucked loose from their terrestrial moorings and placed atop floating islands of land in the sky, with the Statue of Liberty, which is altered to resemble Captain Smek (who adopts many of earth’s technology such as vacuums and BBQs as his own in hilariously misused ways), and the Eiffel Tower being the most notable exceptions, making trips through the air a case of “driver beware” at all times.
Home, while not quite in Pixar’s league, and lacking a standout plot or character trajectory – Oh and Tip’s journey from enemies to friends is swift and largely uneventful – nevertheless is a lot of fun.
Much effort has clearly been put into giving the Boov a well-rounded, functioning, though socially-hobbled society, Oh and Tip shine as two outsiders finding not just a home with each other but a reason for moving forward in a turbulent time of life for both of them, and the humour, much of which emanates from Martin and Parsons who were clearly given some freedom to improvise their dialogue and physical characteristics, is a delight through and through.
It may not ever win any Academy Awards and may be sitting firmly in the middle tier of animated movie efforts, but Home still has more than enough charms, not to mention some important life lessons about belonging and running towards opportunity not away from it, to make it the sort of movie that you will emerge from with your heart nicely warmed, and a big fat silly grin on your face.
And quite possibly, in common with Oh, who notes at one point when Tip has introduced him to music and dancing (the soundtrack is all Rihanna all the time and it largely works) that he is reacting in phsyical ways he didn’t anticipate – “Look at me with my hands in the air like I just do not care” – a spring in your step and your arms flailing happily by your side.