It may seem an absurd statement to apply to a studio that regularly generates hundred of millions of dollars a year in box office gross, yet recently it’s one that’s been thrown around more than one would imagine. These are changing times for mainstream animation, the once untouchable Disney-Pixar’s past successes beginning to define them in spite of less memorable recent fare, while Disney Animation have recently come to usurp their occasional stablemate with the successes of Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph. Meanwhile, stop-motion underdogs Laika continue to emulate the success of Aardman studios, still as popular as ever. The consistent output of these examples has ingrained a perceived high level of quality into the public consciousness, the occasional dud – here’s looking at you, Cars 2 – doing little to damage this perception. Of all the major players however, DreamWorks Animation has arguably experienced the biggest critical backlash, becoming best known for leaning upon their playsafe Shrek and Madagascar franchises and their respective spin-offs. While the likes of How To Train Your Dragon 2 continue to unite critics and audiences alike in appreciation, the studio is more often defined by its recent failures, Rise Of The Guardians and Penguins Of Madagascar among them.
Hence, Home finds DreamWorks in a precarious position indeed, and while its a good-natured, occasionally hilarious adventure movie that’s sure to delight young children, it’s also unlikely to do much to rehabilitate their critical rep. Whilst fleeing from their supposed enemy, a cowardly and grammatically-challenged alien race known as The Boov opt for Earth as a perfect hiding place, taking up global residence and forcefully transporting humanity to a hub in Australia. It’s a premise that promises much untapped opportunities for dark humour, yet instead it takes the tried and tested path of the road-movie as its template. Oh (Jim Parsons), an outcast among his Boovian peers, finds himself in hot water when, in a development only explicable in a film aimed squarely at children, accidentally e-vites the entire galaxy, including their fearsome enemy, to his “warming of house party”. On the run from his own people, Oh stumbles across teenage human survivor Tip (Rihanna), who along with her super-cute cat, Pig, strives to be united with her alien-abducted mother (Jennifer Lopez, obviously). Together in their slushee-powered motor vehicle, they set out on a globe straddling quest, and naturally, intermittent hilarity ensues.
The film’s big laughs derive from its familiar fish-out-of-water scenario, Oh’s consistent misreadings of the workings of the world doing much to compensate for his occasional Jar-Jar Binks-isms. Led by Steve Martin’s unscrupulous Captain Smek, the Boov are an unapologetically pathetic race, their pudgy, uniformly purple appearance often played for laughs. We even learn that they undergo an annual bowel movement, known only as a Number 3, that renders them so wholly incapacitated, they’re required to take the day off. At one point, Oh becomes animated upon hearing his favourite song ‘Motionless and Obedient’, otherwise known as white-noise on the car radio. It certainly makes for welcome respite from the film’s hyperactive score, seemingly based largely upon ‘Mr. Saxobeat’. It’s also symptomatic of the film’s playsafe nature that not only does Rihanna play the female lead (Sample line: “In school, I was just the nerdy kid from Barbados!”), but performs the lion’s share of the soundtrack, her companion-piece ‘concept album’ surely in stores now.
This only feeds into the occasionally pandering tone that Home possesses, sadly foregrounding its overly familiar story tropes – alien bonds with human, road trip ensues – rather than pursuing a more inventive approach that its premise surely invites. For an alien-race that’s supposedly defined by cowardice, the Boov do make short work of their invasion of Planet Earth, and you can’t help but feel like there’s a much better film to be made from Adam Rex’s source material, ‘The True Meaning Of Smekday’. Yet in spite of its myriad shortcomings, Home’s core message, that making mistakes it a key part of what makes us human, does lead to some heartwarming moments, and it’s all so good-natured that you largely forgive its concessions to formula. So while it may be something of a missed opportunity, Home is ultimately as solid and serviceable a product we’re likely to expect from DreamWorks Animation for the foreseeable future. Just don’t submit to these Animated overlords just yet.