Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
The words “home” and “family” are common thematic elements the animation world loves to dig into. When young kids learn about these things through film, it’s a lovely teaching tool. For adults, they induce cozy feelings of nostalgia-driven warmth. Director Tim Johnson’s HOME is no different for all ages. Laced with gentle humor and a few genuine tugs on the heartstrings, this light-spirited romp based on Adam Rex’s book The True Meaning of Smekday is joyful, bubbly fun.
It’s moving day – a.k.a. “best day ever” – for the “Boov,” a pint-sized race of technologically advanced aliens who change colors like mood rings, speak in “lolcat,” and have made an art out of cowardice. And skee-daddle they must as their bumbling, pompous fearful leader Captain Smek (voiced by Steve Martin) fudged peace talks with the “Gorg,” a prickly, imposing bunch of intergalactic enemies. Hiding on Earth, which they rename “Smeckland,” the Boov round up all the humans and deposit them in Australia – a.k.a. “Happy Humanstown,” a colorful, cheery and fun place despite essentially being a concentration camp with carnival rides. However, one very brave and super smart 7th grade outsider, Gratuity “Tip” Tucci (voiced by the miscast, typical DreamWorks stunt cast Rihanna), escaped capture and is on a quest to reunite with her single mom Lucy (voiced by Jennifer Lopez). Enter “Oh” (voiced by Jim Parsons), our ever-enthusiastic protagonist, who’s not well-liked amongst the Boov because of his constant screw-ups.. Shunned by the Boov after accidentally alerting the Gorg to their new hiding place, Oh and Tip have more in common than they think. They, along with Tip’s cat Pig, must race to find Tip’s mom and clear Oh’s name before the Gorg reach Earth.
Despite one or two manufactured emotional moments where young kids will inevitably fidget, HOME’s easygoing jokes and gags, cleverly fleshed-out characters and animation techniques are what should win over young and old alike. Road trip storylines and enemies becoming friends have been done to death, but adapters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember make the power combo appear fresh and fun for the whole family. Character design on Oh, in particular, is stellar; the Boov changing colors based on their emotions adds another layer of storytelling; and the animators find wonderful nuances in Oh’s movements and expressions. Plus, Parsons is pretty spectacular as our tiny hero. Tip is a fantastic, revolutionary role model for youngsters; she’s intelligent, adventurous, vulnerable and unafraid to be herself. What also makes her radical is she’s one of the very few non-lily-white animated females to headline an American feature. It’s unfortunate this needs to be noted; it’s 2015 and girls should really have a wider variety of characters to reflect themselves. Maybe that’s part of a larger conversation to have elsewhere.
Helping to add atmosphere, Johnson interweaves pop tunes from current chart-toppers Charlie XCX, Stargate (who also is the executive music producer), Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez rather effortlessly, matching the correct tonalities of the songs to their scenes. He also sufficiently balances light moments (jokes about the metric system, mild slapstick and scatological humor) with more emotional ones. Not taking what’s not yours and exercising compassion towards those with perceived differences are great things kids should learn.
Is this going to pull DreamWorks Animation out of their current money troubles? Doubtful, but miracles could – and maybe ought to – happen with this. While this may not set the world on fire, elements like its pulsating heart and strong female character really should. HOME is a lot better than you think it is.
HOME opens on March 27.