The latest 3D computer-animated film for kids from embattled DreamWorks Animation isn’t likely to rake in “Shrek”-sized dollars, or to make a critical splash like “How to Train Your Dragon.” At the same time, “Home” with its gentle and genial sense of both humor and action, will divert young children remarkably well, from the sci-fi slapstick to the deftly-handled deeper emotions.
Perhaps the greatest portion of the credit for “Home” should go to director Tim Johnson (“Antz,” “Over the Hedge”), who’s created an animated film with clarity and comedy to support the morals and the message.
From the opening, as Earth is invaded by polite and cowardly aliens in a gentle assault that’s more Dr. Seuss than H.G. Wells, “Home” sets its tone wisely and well with an emphasis on silliness and surrealism even as Earth’s inhabitants are gently vacuumed up and then deposited in what are essentially reservations in Australia. The Boov, a space-faring species of cowards perpetually on the run from danger, have arrived to gently makes our home theirs.
Oh is our co-lead, one of the aliens, who has taken his name from the exasperated sounds most other Boov make when he crops up. Voiced by Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”) and played as a familiar stock comedy character going back to at least Gore Vidal’s 1955 “Visit to a Small Planet,” this visitor from another world is brilliant but hardly worldly.
Oh ruins the Boov’s plan for safety with a hastily-sent party invite that’s now headed for the long-time enemies of the Boov, the Gorg: “Who puts Send right next to Send All? Now that’s just a bad design,” Oh sputters when confronted with his mistake by the Boov Coward-in-Chief leader Captain Smek (Steve Martin, deftly bombastic). On the run and hunted by his own people, Oh winds up in an alliance of convenience with “Tip” Tucci (Rihanna), a plucky youth left behind when the Boov relocated humanity, and she burns with a dead-set determination to be reunited with her mother.
Director Johnson has a nice sense of timing, whether making action sequences involving planet-sized spacecraft or conducting dialogue between characters involving human-sized feelings. The script, adapted by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (“Get Smart,” “Epic”) from Adam Rex’s novel, features not only nicely crafted one-liners but also deftly handled through-lines about family and friendship, community and courage.
The soundtrack and score — including no small amount of numbers old and new from Rihanna — fit perfectly with some of the jaded older kids at my screening (seen-it-all types of say, 11 or 12 years of age), who praised those elements the most loudly afterwards even as the younger kids squinched up their eyes and puffed out their tummies to best approximate Oh’s squat, gecko-meets-Grimace face. The jokes work. And the peril is scary but never, ever terrifying.
The playful visual design also works well with the storytelling — Boov technology is all pastel-shaded circles and curves, while the Gorg create green-on-black sharp, spiky tetrahedrons — and provides yet another aid to following along for your kids, helping convey who’s who in the faster scenes of chase and evasion. Tip is also, perhaps, the most well-designed and human-looking human character DreamWorks has ever computer animated, although her only real competition was Hiccup from “How to Train Your Dragon.”
There’s nothing in “Home” that you haven’t seen before, but there’s a lot in it your kids haven’t; as animated sci-fi for small fry, it’s a success whose modest but well-executed ambitions are no small part of its charm.