Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: "Home"

"If my face is recognized, I am 100 percent popular for being arrested!"

So says Oh, the friendly little alien who looks like a purple (most of the time) land octopus with an oversized mouth and sounds like Yoda after he's received a touch of New Age philosophy and mild brain damage, not necessarily in that order.

He's the star of "Home," the new animated film from DreamWorks, which like Oh himself is agreeable enough so long as he doesn't overstay his welcome. A natural screw-up, the running joke is that Oh is the unwitting outcast of his people, whose groaning exclamations whenever he shows up lend him his name.

(The audience starts out the movie resenting them for their intolerance, but by the movie's end we gain a little sympathy.)

Oh is voiced by Jim Parsons, who is the star of the immensely popular TV comedy "The Big Bang Theory," which is about a gaggle of nerd friends and is right up my alley, except for the fact I've never seen it. My understanding is that he plays a guy who has trouble fitting in with normal humans, so obviously this role is right up his alley.

Parsons gives Oh a wonderfully high yodel-y voice with the stiff speech patterns of the Boov, who all sound like they learned English via American television commercials translated to Japanese and back again. They're simultaneously very precise and borderline incoherent.

A delightful quirk is that the Boov literally can't control their emotional displays. Their bodies tend to reflect everything they're feeling, like changing colors (red is happy; green means they're lying) or having their squiggly little ear/horn thingees go crazy.

Wait'll you see what effect Earth music has on them.

The Boov spend their lives on the run -- literally. They've been fleeing for years from the Gorg, a fearsome species who resemble the creatures from the "Alien" movies wearing death metal rock 'n' roll grab.

Under the underwhelming-yet-overconfident leadership of their leader, Captain Smek -- terrifically voiced by Steve Martin -- they have relocated from planet to planet escaping the Gorg. With the Boov, cowardice is complimented as a virtue. Risk-taking is discouraged.

And now they want to make Earth their new hideout. Of course, that means the humans will all have to be relocated -- in a benevolent, non-threatening way, of course.

The Boov employ a fantastic technology that revolves around bubbles, which they use for everything from transportation to defense and getting rid of any human objects they don't understand, which are floated up into the air in clusters. Thus, a giant floating ball of toilets becomes a commonplace sight.

After everyone else is moved to Boov-planned communities in Australia, a young girl who escaped their notice is determined to find her mom. Gratuity Tucci -- a great name made even better by its nickname, Tip -- is a smart and sassy kid voiced by Rihanna, who manages a passable tween tone.

Oh commits another one of his classic mistakes: accidentally sending a housewarming party invite to all the cosmos, including the Gorg. Soon he's on the run from his angry own, has joined forces with Tip and they are set up for that classic film storytelling device, the road trip. Though theirs takes place mostly in the air, as Oh turns Tip's mom's car into a hovercraft using Slurpee power.

Directed by Tim Johnson from a screenplay by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, based on a book by Adam Rex, "Home" is heavy on the goofy action and funny critters, though it doesn't have the emotional pull of other recent animated gems. The life-lessons stuff is ladled in haphazardly and rather unconvincingly -- "be who you are" is the basic, banal point.

It's a fun flick that the whole family can enjoy, while wishing it had set its sights a bit higher.

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