Home is more of a blip than an alert, more of a whisper than a bang. It's like an unimportant story that airs only once on a local cable channel, at, like, 2:50 in the afternoon. If you happen to catch it, that's fine. If you miss it, though, nothing of value was lost.
Which is too bad—Home marks another dud for Dreamworks, whose animation studio work between 2008 and 2011 was as close to a "Golden Age" as the studio is capable of having. Their willingness to take a chance on new independent properties left us with the Kung Fu Panda and its sequel, How To Train Your Dragon, the criminally underrated Megamind, and the against-all-odds-watchable Puss in Boots. Besides Dragon, none of these movies brushed up against the same kind of artistic ambition as your average Pixar offering, but they were at least mildly ambitious, entertaining, and occasionally moving.
Unfortunately, the same dry, rote movies whose failures forced Dreamworks to (temporarily, it seems) innovate are once again becoming their normal output. Whereas pre-2008 Dreamworks trafficked in capital-e Edge (Shrek and its sequels and Shark Tale stand out here), 2015 sees the studio opting for a lowest common denominator approach of a different kind. Before they targeted bottom-of-the-barrel humor; now they're pandering for as broad a possible base of acceptance as possible.
Home is a great example of why relentless palatability and artistic "safety" ends up being way more boring than pleasant. The movie concerns the alien Oh (Jim Parsons, the character named for the unenthusiastic sound others make at his arrival), a Boov in the process of fleeing his planet due to another genocidal alien race. In the Booves’ attempt to escape the threat, they set about colonizing the little backwater planet of Earth. (Someone should have told them it was only mostly harmless.) Oh, due to his continual mistakes, ends up bonding with a little girl named Tip (Rihanna), who's been separated from her mother.
Will Oh and Tip put aside their differences to learn the true meaning of friendship? Will Tip be reunited with her mother? Will Oh's alien brethren learn to accept his eccentricities as lovable, rather than annoying? And will maybe—just maybe—everyone come out of this with a deeper, more profound understanding of the fact that Family Isn't Just the People You're Related To?
The answer to all those questions is, of course, yes. But the measure of a good kids’ movie isn't in its predictability, but in its ability to let us forget that we already know how this turns out. Most purely entertainin movies work this way: we already know that Luke doesn't fall to the Dark Side, that Lilo and Stitch stay together, that Harry Potter (in some sense) doesn't die, that Up's Carl and Russell make it out of South America.
Those formulas act like a sandbox in which we come to know more about the heroes of our stories. They have an underlying quality, a Something Else, that lets them transcend their own tropes. It's why only one in every 20 romantic comedies actually feel anything adjacent to romantic, or why 1 in every 100 horror movies manages to be good, as well as just effective.
Thousands of words have been spilled in trying to determine exactly what this Something Else is; I, for one, have no idea. All I know is that Home is riddled with the conspicuous absence of that it-factor that would distinguish it from just a template of a movie.
Not that the film doesn't try to distinguish itself—Parsons imported his grating Big Bang Theory voice to the character of Oh, but the screenwriters decided to have all the Boov speak with incorrect grammar and syntax ("I am the having many feelings of happy" is my closest approximation of a slice of Boov dialog). Rather than being, say, a Cool Quirk of the movie, the delivery (specifically Parsons', but really of all the aliens, extending, tragically, even to Steve Martin, who voices the leader of the Boov) feels more like when a 5-year-old decides to spend the whole day speaking incorrectly and giggling afterwards. Sure, by the end of the movie it doesn't grate so much, but the human brain's ability to tune out catastrophically annoying stimuli shouldn't count in favor of Home.
Home tries to use Rihanna in a similar way, to confusing effect. She does most of the music for the movie, but it's not clear to which demographic this is supposed to appeal—are 6-year-olds (the only people who would really enjoy this movie) supposed to know a lot about Rihanna? Are older kids supposed to be entertained by a movie as basic as Home?
Adding to the confusion: Rihanna isn't an especially good voice actress. Listening to her performance just makes you appreciate all the more the talents of people who do this for a living.
Ultimately, Home is only slightly more difficult to disparage than to recommend. It sits squarely on the line between "Ignore" and "Tolerate," dancing between the two enough that by the end you neither regret watching it nor are particularly glad you saw it. If you're looking for what is essentially a derivation of Lilo & Stitch, but with different, more annoying voice acting and slightly brighter colors, then Home will do in a pinch. But otherwise, just do yourself a favor and rent Lilo & Stitch.
Home earns its PG rating with the usual tropes of farts, burps, and slapstick humor, none of which match or surpass Shrek. The recounting of the jokes would be too tedious for words, but the movie falls pretty much in the 35th percentile of crude jokes; if you insist on nothing but the cleanest of jokes, the movie won't fully please, but there's nothing really all that objectionable, either. The Boov's alien adversaries are intimidating, and could scare younger children.
Jackson Cuidon lives in New York City with his wife and dog, and would like to show you pictures of both sometime, if you have a minute. Follow his biennially updated Twitter account@jxscott.