Adorable and intensely creepy all at once, animated family comedy "Home" puts a chirpy, upbeat spin on a premise that isn't far off from H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" and, unexpectedly, 2010's "Skyline
." The lead character, a peppy alien named Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons), is an underappreciated outsider who tries to retain a positive outlook no matter what comes his way. With the threat of their enemy, the Gorg, edging closer, Oh's Boov species has decided to hide out on Earth. Our hero is overjoyed with the prospect of moving day"Today is best day ever!" he exclaimsbut the Boov's takeover requires that the human race be sucked up into tentacles and transported to a place of allegedly endless happiness called Humanstown. Before the opening title card has even appeared, "Home" manages to unsettle and disconcert, made all the eerier by the up-tempo pop music playing over an alien abduction montage. Heartwarming though the film ultimately becomes, its setup isn't exactly innocuous.
Having just moved into his new Manhattan apartment, Oh immediately goes to work preparing a "warming of houses" party. When he accidentally sends out an invitation to the entire galaxy, Captain Smek (Steve Martin) and the rest of the Boov are horrified to realize he has just inadvertently exposed their location to the Gorg. On the run from his people, Oh crosses paths with lonely teenager Gratuity 'Tip' Tucci (Rihanna), an earthling who escaped the aliens' invasion but saw her mother, Lucy (Jennifer Lopez), get snatched before her eyes. Tip is initially unsure if she can trust this chameleonic extraterrestrial, but, as these two unlikely new pals join forces to find her mom and stop the Gorg, they discover they have more in common than either one could have imagined.
Based on the 2007 book "The True Meaning of Smekday" by Adam Rex, "Home" proves mostly winning once one gets past the general concept of aliens attacking our world, taking over people's lives, and whisking the humans to a synthetic environment of eternal ice cream cones and carnival rides. Granted, the Boov do not understand that the residents of this planet are evolved intelligent beings, but that doesn't lessen the uneasy sight of them being treated like virtual pets in a hamster cage. Once Oh and Tip run into each other, the film lightens up to focus on their friendship and the literally high-flying adventure at hand. While the story loses a bit of its edge in its middle acta segment set in Paris goes on too long and slows down the pacinginspiration and a strong emotional core return in time for the Australian climax where Tip's search for her mom coincides with the Borg's mothership approaching to destroy the earth. How these threads, and Oh's crucial part in setting things right, are handled is surprisingly riveting because of how much is at stake.
The easy highlight of "Home" is Jim Parsons (TV's "The Big Bang Theory"), who turns Oh into an irresistible force of nature, disarming and naïve to the ways of a world that isn't quite like his own. His occasionally broken English sells his fish-out-of-water (or would that be "alien-on-a-foreign-planet?") situation, while his eternal sunny disposition makes him all the more lovable when he isn't fully accepted by his community. As Gratuity 'Tip' Tucci (now that's
a great name!), Rihanna (2012's "Battleship
") is a spunky, perfectly serviceable presence, doing well with an undernourished character who doesn't get the chance to build a deeper bond with her mom before she is taken away from her. Had a scene been added early on between these two, it would have made her desperate journey to find her all the more affecting. Making the most of a small role, Jennifer Lopez (2015's "The Boy Next Door
") is warm and comforting as Tip's mother, Lucy. A song Lopez sings on the soundtrack, "Feel the Light," is beautifully used near the end.
"Home" was directed by Tim Johnson (2006's "Over the Hedge
") and written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (2013's "Epic
"), and they have made a sci-fi comedy that gets points for quirkiness but could have used another rewrite to build up certain key relationships and clarify occasional plot points. A second-tier release that doesn't live up to the quality of the best studio-made animated features, the film is cute but slight, colorful but aesthetically unsophisticated (one has to assume the 2D version will be even bolder than the negligible theatrical 3D presentation). What is most memorable is the scrappy, eager-to-please Oh, masterfully voiced by Jim Parsons as a true original rather than a Sheldon Cooper clone. Even when the story is going down some uniquely dark avenues, Parsons' Oh is a beacon of giddy light even in the face of planetary hijacking and uncertain doom. Despite what it may sound like, "Home" is, at its core, a movie about friendship, family and acceptance. It's really rather sweet. And ominous.