There’s nothing more comforting than being home. That also seems to be true of Dreamworks Animation’s Home, a movie that ditches the edgy humour of many other Dreamworks Animation movies, instead focusing on being warm and fuzzy for family audiences.
Home, originally titled ‘Happy Smekday!‘, is loosely inspired by childrens’ book, The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, and is among the many early 2015 releases that were originally delayed out of a planned 2014 release. It’s tough to imagine why the movie was delayed though, as it seems to be a pretty by-the-numbers family movie. It’s held together by solid lead performances and buckets of colourful charm, but it’s also a fluff film that won’t stick out in your mind long after you’ve finished watching it.
It seems like we’ll have to make do with Home however, since it’s the only Dreamworks Animation movie we’re getting in 2015. This might have been the sole reason for its delay, where it swapped places with Penguins of Madagascar, as the other planned Dreamworks Animation movie for this year, B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations, ended up being indefinitely delayed after 20th Century Fox decided to alter the studio’s release schedule. It seems like 2015 is going to be the year hit hardest by this restructuring, especially since Home feels like a filler offering, one that’s meant to satisfy audiences for almost an entire year before the studio’s next release, Kung Fu Panda 3, hits the big screen in March of 2016.
While largely unremarkable however, Home is fun while it lasts. There’s not much to it, but it’s lively and well-animated, and should entertain kids and kids-at-heart quite nicely.
The lead character of Home is Oh, voiced by Jim Parsons, a member of a race of aliens called the Boov, so named because of the exasperated sighs that his kinsmen utter every time he says hello to them. Oh is something of an eccentric, being outgoing, happy and generally carefree, despite the rest of his race being cowardly, focused and dismissive of any type of leisure activities.
You can see where this is going.
Considering the fact that Parsons has made a name for himself voicing one of the most neurotic, annoyingly rigid characters on modern television for The Big Bang Theory however, Home presents a great chance for him to approach a character from the other direction. Parsons’ distinct voice lends itself very well to Oh, along with Oh’s adorable butchering of English, resulting in an alien personality that is packed with charm and character, and one that makes for a fun protagonist, even if the rest of his race can grate a bit at times.
The human lead in the movie is Gratuity “Tip” Tucci, played by Rihanna. Rihanna fares far better here than she did in the ill-fated Battleship, the only other true acting credit to her name (beyond tongue-in-cheek cameos in This is the End and the recent remake of Annie), managing to make Tip a good comic foil for Oh, as well as a way to keep the movie grounded in human sensibilities. As much as Oh is arguably the main character, the story feels like it’s actually driven by Tip, who, as in the book, is trying to survive on her own, while also trying to reunite with her mother.
The entire movie is a simple culture clash between Oh and Tip for the most part, with Oh’s oblivious shenanigans being suffered through and corrected by Tip, over the course of their adventures. The movie feels like it operates on a faster pace than the book does, especially since it eliminates most of the obstacles and destinations from the book, but there’s enough entertainment to be had with the leads before kids in the audience inevitably start getting antsy.
While the movie teases the evil Gorg race as villains, a more frequent antagonist to Oh is actually the Boov leader, Captain Smek, who makes Oh a fugitive, after he accidentally sends a party e-vite to the entire galaxy, including the Gorg. Steve Martin voices Captain Smek, though despite his lively efforts, Smek ultimately ends up being a pointless character for the most part, one that just wastes space. This is a shame, as the movie is supposed to have him be a key antagonist, and yet, it just feels like Smek isn’t given anything to do beyond occasionally show up on screen, and make some exaggerated action that will hopefully amuse the children in the audience.
Similarly shafted is Jennifer Lopez as Tip’s mother, Lucy, who is largely only seen in flashback videos, and barely has any lines. It leads to Home feeling like it was heavily edited down, leaving out most of the substance to instead focus on amusing younger viewers, and that’s a shame.
Still, even if the characters aren’t terribly deep, there’s plenty to love about the leads in particular. The cast may be small and simple, but Home is certainly not without its charm.
Home begins where its short film setup left off (if you happened to catch that in theatres), with the alien Boov race fleeing the Gorg race to try and find a new home planet, and eventually discovering Earth. With the Boov leader, Captain Smek telling his race that humans are simple, backwards savages, the Boov help relocate all of the humans to Australia (a more realistic switch from Florida/Arizona from the book), and take the rest of the planet for themselves.
An annoying Boov nuisance, Oh, the one Boov who doesn’t subscribe to the cowardly, rigid tenets of the Boov race, then causes an issue when he tries to host a party, and ends up accidentally leading the Gorg to Earth. Made a fugitive and forced on the run, Oh must team up with a lost human girl, Tip, along with her cat, Pig, to try and flee, learning about what it means to be human along the way.
As you can see, Home feels a little bit focus-tested to death. Even the title has been made disappointingly generic in its final product. It’s one of those movies that feels like it’s constantly checking boxes in terms of what’s to be expected in a modern animated family movie. and is afraid to forge a true identity of its own. This stands in stark contrast to much of Dreamworks Animation’s prior work, with most of their former movies not being afraid to push the envelope, and try for new creative avenues in the animated filmmaking genre. Frankly, Home feels like it belongs at the more conservative Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox’s Ice Age and Rio outfit, not Dreamworks Animation.
I hope that Home doesn’t represent an overall dumbing down of the kind of work that Dreamworks Animation often achieved under Paramount, after Fox announced its desire to re-tool the studio’s portfolio, but at least Home’s story never enters the realm of outright badness. It just feels overly calculated and unmemorable.
Home is the first feature project in quite a while for director, Tim Johnson, who previously did Antz, Over the Hedge and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas for Dreamworks Animation. None of those are considered to be highlights in the Dreamworks Animation portfolio, and sadly, Home doesn’t become the exception for Johnson.
That’s not to say that Johnson’s directing is poor. Home has a good sense of energy, and it’s definitely made with as much heart as Johnson can muster. The emotional scenes are a bit schmaltzy, but the eye-popping visuals and reasonably thrilling action moments help to compensate for this. It’s a competent family movie production, but there’s little to make it stand out in terms of how it’s directed, beyond the sharp lead performances from Jim Parsons and Rihanna.
Thus, the odds are kind of against Johnson, who does reasonably good work here, but can’t really elevate Home to a point where it truly stands out from the superior likes of Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon, and other high-profile Dreamworks Animation movie franchises. It’s a workmanlike family movie director job that has effort behind it, but still has Home coming off as if it’s just filling a space in the Dreamworks Animation catalogue.
Home’s soundtrack feels strangely mis-matched to the rest of the movie. Part of this issue is with the sheer amount of tracks that Rihanna has tossed in to the mix, which feels a bit shameless, and as if Rihanna’s trying to create plugs for her music, rather than purely focus on making a good movie. The Rihanna tunes feel unnecessary, and they contribute to the pop-heavy soundtrack in Home that is bound to date very badly in the long term. The occasional moments of dubstep make even less sense. Again, it just feels like a focus group is ticking off things that people seem to like to listen to in 2015, with a bunch of placement deals with Rihanna that just serve to annoy.
The rest of the audio work feels very candy-coated and innocent, again crowd-surfing headlong into trying to appeal mostly to children. There’s a few moments of more intense audio, but for the most part, the sound work is literally bubbly, as a vast majority of the Boov technology somehow relies on bubbles. I’m not sure why Home has a bizarre fascination with bubbles, from slushy concoctions to bubble wrap to spherical structuring everywhere, but at least it gives the audio some character, even if it may make everything feel too sugary for adults to adequately take seriously.
For its disappointing lack of standout qualities, Home at least delivers great animation, which makes it easy to watch, if difficult to fondly recall. The way that the Boov change shape and colour according to their emotional state is a pretty clever way to separate them from the many other CG renditions of aliens in these kinds of movies, and even if the bubble-heavy technology makes little sense, at least it’s fun to look at, especially for younger viewers.
The animation is already plenty colourful and fun in 2D, but as you can expect, the 3D cut offers a little bit more when it comes to realizing the visuals. The action moments are especially thrilling to view in the 3D cut, and some of the 3D effects are a good lot of fun, even if this ultimately doesn’t end up surpassing Dreamworks Animation’s highlight 3D jobs in, say, the How To Train Your Dragon movies. Still, if given the choice, and without any aversion to 3D movies, you should definitely opt for the 3D cut. It’s the most fun and exciting way to watch Home.
It’s easy (and accurate) to say that Home is all about colourful amusement and little else, but at least it does that well, as the visual spectacle behind the movie definitely isn’t wanting.
Home is a reliable family movie, no more, no less. It’s well-animated, well-acted, and checks those comforting boxes of what a family movie should be, but it completely fails to stand out. In a year that’s otherwise completely devoid of Dreamworks Animation, it’s just kind of there. It doesn’t disappoint, but it doesn’t largely impress either.
If you want a charming, mostly loveable distraction, and don’t care about much else, then Home is a friendly diversion that will hit the spot while it lasts. It’s beneath the pedigree of Dreamworks Animation however, and stinks of 20th Century Fox intervening in various places, as a byproduct of their tightening the grip on Dreamworks Animation’s former business practices. Hopefully, that isn’t a hallmark of things to come, since Fox already has Blue Sky Studios to churn out by-the-numbers animated flicks for them.
A pessimist could easily say that Home is a disappointment then, but it at least has enough charm to avoid feeling like it shouldn’t exist. It is what it is I suppose, colourful, kid-friendly fluff. If that sounds good to you, then by all means, indulge in that comfort food. It will be a long wait before Dreamworks Animation treats us to their next offering.
- Parsons and Rihanna are good leads
- Reasonably charming humour
- Colourful animation and fun 3D effects
- Captain Smek is a weak antagonist
- Mis-matched, Rihanna-heavy soundtrack is annoying
- Shallow, forgettable story