It feels like no one is trying to raise the bar anymore. Envelopes aren’t being pushed. Paradigms aren’t shifting. Everyone seems perfectly content with the same shiny product of hyperactive, attention-span-killing noise. I realize most kids’ movies aren’t engineered to challenge the intended audience. It’s about bright colors, ear-bleeding audio, and a plot that moves so fast audiences need a bottle of Ritalin by the time the final credits roll.
Last week I talked about tripe like “Furious 7,” movies where lazy critics and writers suggest audiences “turn off their brain” in order to enjoy it. It’s such an insulting concept: In order to enjoy something, don’t think. Movie execs act as if applying more than a single brain cell renders the entire enterprise obsolete. This should not apply to creative pursuits.
“Home,” the new animated film from DreamWorks Studios, is like the kiddie version of “Furious 7.” It’s equally large and brain dead. I’m not sure how a mantra like “turn off your brain” works when most of the tickets sold are to kids whose brains haven’t fully formed.
Animated films these days are like Mad Libs. They follow a very predictable script. First, the film needs something adorable. “Home” gives viewers Oh (Jim Parsons), a cute little bugger among an invading army of aliens who come to take over Earth. The human population is shipped off the planet, so the Boov can make themselves snicker at home. Oh wants nothing more than to make friends with his fellow Boov, but his big personality is kind of grating. Like all kiddie animated movies, our hero is something of a black sheep. He encounters a displaced human girl named Tip (Rhianna), who wants nothing more than to be reunited with her mother.
The two unlikely allies are forced to work together as they head across the globe in a soap-bubble-powered hover ship (don’t ask). Like all animated films, no one can stay still. Everything has to be moving, constantly blasting forward at ludicrous speed. It’s like watching chase sequences without consequence or tension. “Home” might become your favorite film. It’s chockful of zippy, all-over-the-place chase sequences that do nothing more than connect together a tissue-thin plot.
Eventually, the story finds an excuse to get the humans and Boov together to fight for a common cause. However, the only fight that really mattered was the one between my ass and seat as I struggled to stay awake through this vapid pile of nonsense.
What makes “Home” a little more grating and a little less entertaining than other films in the same genre is the voice talent. Jim Parsons is doing a more animated version of his “Big Bang Theory” character, Sheldon Cooper. Instead of a high-functioning guy with social deficiencies, he’s a high-strung alien who over alliterates every sentence. Still, he’s doing Shakespeare compared to Rihanna who gives a lifeless, monotone performance. It’s so bad I can almost picture the poor recording bastard in the sound studio desperately wishing he had done something more with his life. I vividly see him forcing a thumb’s up or a pleasing smile between cuts when Rhianna inevitably asks, “How was that?”
For me, these kind of movies live and die by one basic principle: Can you make me care? I guess that’s true of any movie, but there’s a more difficult burden for the kiddie films. I’m already expecting that what I’m about to see is mindless garbage. “Home” delivers on that promise. It doesn’t deliver any good laughs other than the chuckles from terrible line readings by Rhianna. The characters are stale. The alien plot feels lifted from a thousand other movies. Some parents tell me movies for kids just have to keep their attention, like a pair of car keys dangled for an infant.
This movie might get a pass from a 6-year-old but not me. I’m holding this movie accountable for stealing away 90 minutes of my life. Not every movie has to be a game-changer, but there feels like no effort is put into these kinds of films. I’m not expecting Miyazaki every time I see something animated, but can’t we do better than this? Can’t we deliver a movie for kids that is more than just loud, flashy slapstick? It’d be nice.
Starring Jim Parsons, Rihanna and Steve Martin
Directed by Tim Johnson