The new DreamWorks animated film Home is a surprisingly moving tale of friendship and family, dressed up as an adorably frivolous sci-fi comedy. It kicks off on a cute-creepy note, with our cuddly, barrel-shaped, space-alien protagonist Oh (Jim Parsons) introducing his kind: the Boov, a species of intergalactic cowards constantly on the run — usually from the nasty, planet-destroying Gorg, another alien race. “The Boov,” Oh tells us, are the “best species ever at running away.” He adds, in his patented diction: “I am very excitement to make a fresh start. We are all moving to the best planet ever for to hide in.” That planet, in case you haven’t seen the trailers, is Earth. How exactly do they plan to deal with us humans? Easy. They turn off gravity, harvest us in giant bubbles, and send us all to Australia — turning the continent into a massive suburban prison colony. They also take anything they deem worthless — bicycles, toilets, etc. — and collect them in giant clusters in the sky. Like I said, creepy, but cute.
A klutz and a social eager-beaver, Oh is not popular with his fellow Boov; their kind does not like parties or neighborliness or anything like that, and whenever Oh shows up, everybody hides. Regardless, the never-say-die Oh goes ahead and invites everybody in the universe to his housewarming party. Unfortunately, he invites literally everybody in the universe: He accidentally hits “send all” on his evite (the Boov have evites!), which means it is now heading out to the farthest reaches of space — and will soon inform the Gorg where the Boov are hiding.
As he tries to flee his vindictive fellow Boov, Oh runs into Tip (voiced by Rihanna), a lone Barbadian-American teenager hiding out from the alien invasion while waiting for her mom (Jennifer Lopez) to return. Together, the two of them race against the clock to find Tip’s mom, and also stop the evite from reaching the Gorg. Speedy chases ensue, mostly in a flying car that Oh tricks out to run on multi-flavored slushies, and the two outcasts get to know each other. They have a nice rapport, and it’s also nice to see another major animated film headlined by a black female heroine. (Has there been one since The Princess and the Frog? I don’t recall.)
Still, one might ask if there’s anything else to distinguish Home from the countless other animated films out there that mix action spectacle, family-focused story lines, and humor of varying degrees of irreverence. Each movie figures out its own blend of these elements; Home errs on the side of sentiment, and that’s not a bad thing. There’s a lot of goofiness, to be sure, much of it having to do with Oh and the Boov’s silly syntax. But the film pulls back at points where others might double down. Instead, Tip’s longing for her mother and Oh’s longing for acceptance start to weigh more heavily on the plot, and the film gradually captures a sense of gentle, but very real, desperation. Warming hearts and jerking tears are par for the course in kiddie flicks. But it’s rare to find one that has this many emotional crescendos — and manages them all gracefully and cinematically. It also probably helps that the film features a wonderful soundtrack, which includes Rihanna’s otherworldly “Towards the Sun.” The song works well, particularly with the finale’s images of apocalyptic grandeur. Home is a corny movie, but the corniness never feels cheap or opportunistic.