I’m not the first to have noticed that your chances of getting a project through the DreamWorks Animation pipeline seem greatly enhanced if you’re telling a story about a nerdy outsider, or someone who struggles to fit in. In recent times along, Mr Peabody & Sherman, Turbo and The Croods have all traded on this to some degree. Home very much does as well.
In this case, the outside is Oh (voiced well by Jim Parsons), a misfit who – for reasons I never really bought – isn’t that well liked by his people, the Boov. The Boov are led by Captain Smekday (and the film in turn is based on the book The True Meaning Of Smekday, by Adam Rex). Said Captain leads the Boov in their quest to run away from the slightest hint of danger, and hence to the planet Earth. The plan here: relocate all the humans elsewhere on the planet, and move in.
Not uncommon to animated films of this ilk, Home thus has to scoot through a lot of set up work in its first 10 to 20 minutes, and it’s occasionally clunky in doing so. Things fall into place as the film moves on, but it would be fair to say that Home takes a while to really start its engines – although the scale of the ‘moving in’ sequence can’t help but impress. DreamWorks, whatever you throw at the firm, remains a genuinely world class studio when it comes to its computer animation work.
Back to the story, though, and this time, DreamWorks has a film that doesn’t just have one lonely character at the heart of it, it has two. Enter, then, a young girl by the name of Tip (voiced by Rihanna), and – heck, you can probably fill this bit in easily enough – she and Oh don’t click at first, not really understanding each other. Events happen, of course, but what gets through the telling of a story where the audience is usually three chapters ahead of the film (down to, and including most – but not quite all – of the final act) is that this two key characters actually work. And work really well.
This was the misstep, for me, of the generally enjoyable Mr Peabody & Sherman. In that film, I couldn’t fathom for the life of me why Sherman would be so drawn to a character like Penny, who came off more of a bully than a decent human being. There’s no such problem here, and while the lines of story are unlikely to surprise anyone, the characters are engaging, well designed, and I enjoyed the time in their company.
Two things help there. Firstly, the film’s core cast is surprisingly small, and that means we get to spend a good deal of quality time with Oh and Tip (and Tip’s cat, natch). But also, the humour is slightly different. It’s less about cultural references and trying to be clever with the jokes. Rather, there’s a gentler warmth to it. One consequence of this is that this is lighter on laughs than more recent DreamWorks fare. But the upside is that it scores much better on warmth and smiles.
What it doesn’t quite manage is to explore loneliness in a manner anywhere near as effectively as the likes of Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, ParaNorman, Frankenweenie and Big Hero 6 have in recent years. And furthermore, it’d be a surprise if too many people dug out a copy of the film in 20 years time, desperate to rewatch a classic (whereas Home director Tim Johnson’s first film, Antz, is one I check in fairly regularly).
Yet Home‘s mission seems very much to keep a younger audience entertained, and at that, it’s really rather successful. It’s less interested in bringing adults along for the ride – there’s no real case of a narrative working on two levels or anything here – but conversely, its bright, often-wonderfully animated sequences generally offer something of interest.
There’s inevitably more pressure on Home than there should be, given well-known tales of DreamWorks Animation’s recent troubles. But removed from this, Home should be taken for what it is: a good, solid, entertaining family movie. Granted, it occasionally reminds you of other films, not all of which help it (you invoke the likes of Up, for instance, at your peril), but on its own terms, it tries very, very hard to entertain, and ultimately does.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.