It is perhaps fitting that so shortly after the death of Leonard Nimoy, that his greatest creation - Star Treks Spock - is so obviously a prominent influence on Home, the latest animated feature from Dreamworks.
In what is the story of an alien invasion, and pivotally, the developing friendship between a colourful little alien and a human girl, there is more than a passing resemblance to the legendary relationship between vulcan and human that was such a central part of the seminal sci-fi series.
Adapted from Adam Rex’s young adult novel ‘the true meaning of Smek day’, Home introduces us to the ‘Boov’, a cute and colourful little race of aliens who have been scouring the galaxy in order to find a new planet for them to inhabit. Upon discovering earth and quickly liberating/stealing it from the human race everything is going pretty much to plan until Jim Parsons’ strangely named ‘Oh’ - to elaborate on his bizarre moniker here would be to spoil one of the movie’s best visual gags - accidentally sends an email to the entire galaxy and in the process alerts the Boov’s greatest nemesis the ‘Gorg’ as to their whereabouts and plunges this new-found idyll into chaos.
Ostracised from his people, Oh is forced to go on the run where he encounters Rihanna’s hot-headed, yet resourceful, ‘Tip’ - herself an outsider accidentally left behind during the human relocation which subsequently leaves her with a developed sense of bitterness and mistrust towards the aliens who have stolen her home and family. It is through this unconventional friendship that we are treated to numerous stand-out comedy moments as well as some poignant scenes of emotional heft that should appeal to a wide variety of cinema-goers.
After the commercial flop of Dr. Peabody & Sherman (incidentally the film which first introduced us to the Boov with the short film ‘Almost Home’ that previewed before the main feature) Dreamworks was accused in some quarters of being “too sophisticated” for it’s audience - a charge that was played-out by a poor performance at the box office. It’s ironic then that Dreamworks has chosen a story about an alien race as it’s first original follow-up piece to a film accused of ‘alienating’ it’s target demographic.
Consequently, Home follows a more tried-and-trusted blueprint by splicing the comedic pratfalls of the minion-esque Boov with the deeper, underlying messages that are now a staple of any successful animation. In short, any sophistication that appears in Home is merely the condiment to accentuate the meals main flavourings of merriment, humour and slapstick buffoonery. Dreamworks sticks to what works best and ensures that at the very heart of this film is the one thing that every child in the audience can relate to - the almost magical concept of ‘fun’.
Central to this is the creation of perhaps the most-rounded animated character for some time in the diminutive shape of Oh, the influences for whom are numerous - from Spock to ET and from Yoda to Sheldon Cooper, there is an amalgamation of various imitations that are mixed into this little creature. With this in mind, it would have made it very easy for the films main protagonist to feel contrived, so it is a credit to Dreamworks - and in particular the excellent voice performance by Parsons - that they have still managed to create such an original and likeable character whilst managing to avoid the old adage of familiarity breeding contempt. Oh is so much more than the sum of his replicated parts and firmly carries the film on his squishy little purple shoulders.
Fighting against the giant shadow cast by Parsons and his not-so-giant alien, Rihanna performs well in her first animated role, bringing the right element of sas and vulnerability to the character and proving that she wasn’t just hired for her presence on the soundtrack; whilst - rounding out the cast of major voice-actors - Steve Martin channels his inner goof to make Captain Smek (the leader of the Boov) so much more than the minor supporting cast member he could have been with an energetic and comedic performance that he hasn’t managed to reach in his live-action roles for many years.
There is an authentic connection between Oh and Tip that comes not only through the excellent direction of Tim Johnson - himself a Dreamworks stalwart responsible for Over the hedge and Antz - but also the effortless chemistry between the two main voice talents, that as mentioned previously, evokes the spirit of the Spock/Kirk axis long since held up as perhaps the greatest friendship in Sci-fi, at one point even using a car window to recreate the famous “I have been, and always shall be, your friend” scene from Star Trek II. Whereas Disney’s recent animated offering, Big Hero 6, fumbled the ball somewhat by having too many characters that didn’t add much to the narrative, Home instead places its main protagonists front and centre and turns the movie into what is primarily a simple two-hander that really works to it’s advantage.
Despite the sterling work of the supporting cast however there is no doubt at all who this film belongs to as Parsons transforms one of the movies smallest physical characters into an omnipotent force who manages to tower over everything else with his unerring ability to consistently steal every single scene he appears in. It has long since been a criticism that Dreamworks puts much more emphasis on it’s voice-cast than it does on plot and character development with a suspicion that it simply casts ‘big names’ to sell the movie for them (see Shark Tale and The Croods). With Home however, Dreamworks is right on the money with it’s cast who only ever add to the characters rather than distract from them - and it shows in every frame of the film.
Added to this, Home is visually stunning and you will struggle to find another animated film that uses colour to it’s advantage as much as this does. Not only do the Boov themselves change colour to convey the many different emotions they feel (in much the same way as humans alter body language and facial expressions) but the entire film is constructed around a wonderful palette of bright, vibrant colours.
With further proof that this time Dreamworks really understands its audience we are presented with a world that looks like it was painted by a child - the purples, greens and oranges that are prominent throughout give an almost dreamlike quality and present us with a warm, gooey visual that young children in particular will relate to. Cynically, you could point to the marketing dream of having all these cute and squishy little aliens of various different colours to fuel what will no doubt be an aggressive toy-line but let’s give credit to Dreamworks here because everything points to a strategic focus in which the pick n’ mix colours and slushy-machine visuals are used to expertly create this imaginary world and give it it’s own unique feel which only adds to the overall focus on fun and entertainment that clearly drives this feature forward.
With all of this light-hearted amusement on display it would be easy to pigeon-hole Home as nothing more than ‘one for the kids’ but that would be a dis-service to the multi-layered plot which cleverly integrates hidden depths and meanings amongst all the bedlam and comedic revelry. The motifs of understanding, uniqueness and accepting other people’s differences feature highly as does the exploration of the bonds we create with others through family and friendship. Both our central characters desire companionship - in Tip’s case from the mother that was taken from her and in Oh’s for the friendship that doesn’t fit with his races culture or exist amongst his people. This lack of a sense of belonging firmly paints both as outsiders and acts as the platform for the budding friendship that inevitably develops. Whilst the hostility that initially exists between them is borne out of their fear of the unknown it could also be put down to their lack of understanding and acceptance of the differences that they both bring to the table.
It is this understanding that we should all seek in our relationships and the connections that we desire. Oh is told that “Boovs are not unique” and whilst this might be true for this imaginary race it is certainly not true of the human one. Home teaches us that we are unique and we are different and that these differences should not be used as a reason to distance ourselves from others but instead be celebrated and used to make our connections stronger. If we understand others then we better understand ourselves - a message reinforced by an extremely clever plot twist towards the films conclusion that helps elevate Home comfortably into the position of the years best animated feature so far.
In summary then, Home hits all it’s marks by not trying to be too clever and ensuring that any observations about the human condition are mainly left for the adults in the audience to decipher whilst the kids are giggling at the mirth and merriment of the characters themselves - the key to any successful family animation. It is difficult to find any major flaws with Home as there is a real sense of Dreamworks knowing the audience and most importantly never losing sight of the need to entertain that audience. To steal a quote from John Lassiter at the rival Walt Disney Animation Studios – “If you truly, deeply entertain an audience, and entertain every person in that audience no matter what age they are, what gender they are, it will be a success”.
With Home it seems as though it’s mission well and truly accomplished.