Jim Parson (Oh), Rihanna (Gratuity “Tip” Tucci), Steve Martin (Captain Smek), Jennifer Lopez (Lucy Tucci), Matt Jones (Kyle)
“Today is best day ever. Moving day! For Who? Answer: The Boov. Who are the Boov? Answer: Best species ever at running away. Who am I? I am Oh. I has been given this name by my many, many friends. I am very excitement to make a new fresh start! We are all moving to best planet ever for to hiding. Our new home! Fa-Da. Humanspersons are happiness and joy forever in Happy Humanstown. And rest of planet is for Boov. Win-win! This planet may being a bit of a fixing-it-upper, but that is okay. Boov are best at deciding what is useful and what is not. Today, I starts a new life with new friends in a new home. And that is why today is best day ever!” -Oh, opening narration.
Dreamworks Pictures has long been the well-meaning drunken cousin of Disney/Pixar that briefly got its shit together, got a haircut, a job and started making something of its life somewhere around 2008. In the last 8 years, Dreamworks has put out some genuinely enjoyable films like the Kung Fu Panda trilogy, Monsters vs. Aliens, the How to Train Your Dragon series, Rise of the Guardians, and The Croods. They still kept making their fair share of dreck in addition, but signs were pointing toward a brighter tomorrow somewhere down the line. Home was not one of those signs.
While not a flop, Home only grossed a little over $42 million above its budget and has a sterling 47% fresh rating on hated-bullshit website Rotten Tomatoes (it has a slightly better 6.7 out of 10 on the other hated-bullshit website, IMDb). I could lie to you and say this is just critics piling on an easy target, and to a small extent it is, but Rotten Tomatoes pretty much sums up my feelings in a short paragraph: “Colorful, silly, and utterly benign, Home is a passable diversion, but there’s no shortage of superior animated alternatives.”
Now, you may be saying “Well, no duh!” Everything aesthetic about Home seems to have been tailor-made to bug the shit out of anyone over the age of 8. Treacly pop songs; human character designs that sit right on the line between acceptable and the uncanny valley; a cast that features two pop starlets (whose songs pepper the soundtrack), the most annoying guy from The Big Bang Theory, and disgraced former comedy superstar Steve Martin; not to mention aliens with a singularly annoying and unappealing design and speech pattern. Home feels like its own straight-to-video ripoff and evokes nightmare visions of truly awful bargain-bin shit like Planet 51, Space Chimps, and Fly Me to the Moon.
But Home has a better pedigree than one might imagine. The film is based on the children’s book (actually a pseudo-graphic novel) The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. The book doesn’t exactly aim for great comedic heights itself (Oh’s name in the book is J. Lo) but every page I’ve seen of it points to something much more subversive and wickedly clever than the movie, like an all-ages version of Rob Schrab’s SCUD the Disposable Assassin.
Indeed everything that feels trite and annoying about Home feels clever and funny about The True Meaning of Smekday. From The Boov’s weird Pidgin-English speaking patterns and their weird minimalist designs to a lot of the stupider jokes which feel more winking in print than they do on film.
In fairness, most of the movie’s annoying qualities dissipate by the fifteen-minute mark but those first few minutes are torturously cringe-inducing. I’ve seen this movie three times now and Jim Parson’s opening narration feels like nails on a chalkboard to my soul. Beyond that you only have to deal with an ongoing low-hanging fruit joke with two variations: 1) The Boov think that gross or inedible things are food (footballs, urinal pucks, motor oil, bolts) 2) The Boov use normal things in inappropriate ways (a grill for a hat, a tire for a hat/belt, oranges for shoes, a hair dryer for an inhaler). These jokes are all lazy and pointless but as my preschool-aged son laughed uproariously at a great many of them I was reminded that this movie is aimed at somebody other than a cynical film-blogging asshole.
Home skews young with its target audience, seemingly aiming for kids about 5 to 8 rather than the usual 12 and under crowd. This means the movie is a lot more insufferable than your average Dreamworks film but I’ll take gritting my teeth in embarrassment through Rihanna saying “Shake your Boov thang” over whatever the fuck Bee Movie was supposed to be.
And though Home is a fairly shallow movie that aims very low as far as message (both Oh and Tip are outsiders in their cultures and benefit from a greater understanding of those who are different) there are some fairly clever digs at colonialism and the way people tend to look at less advanced cultures as inferior and stupid. Through the Boov there are also many digs at American culture’s lack of individuality, free thinking, and collective tendency to lionize the loudest idiot (a message that’s becoming more relevant by the day.) There’s not a lot to it and it certainly doesn’t benefit from comparison to the dark-comic undercurrents of WALL-E, there’s at least something there.
And there are many gags that do work, particularly visual gags. I also can’t give enough credit to Steve Martin who steals every scene he’s in as Captain Smek. It’s still not Martin at the top of his game but as a fan who has watched him underperform since Bowfinger, it’s nice to see that a little bit of the old Steve Martin still exists. Matt Jones (Badger of Breaking Bad) also offers up a decent supporting role. Rihanna isn’t terrible and, barring a few lines, Jim Parson’s is fairly likable and funny for the remainder of the movie.
The musical cues work well in spite of the fact that they’re all either dubstep, bubblegum, or treacly emotionally manipulative pop. The movie utilizes the music well to complement the onscreen action. Speaking of, the action is wonderful and makes full use of Dreamworks’ wonderful animation assets that are otherwise wasted on the ugly character design.
Home pales in comparison to many of its contemporaries and it’s not a must-see by far but it’s a fairly enjoyable experience. If you have a small child or children of your own, this is a far more watchable alternative to a lot of the other crap you may have to suffer through a million times, particularly on Netflix.
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