“Home” is a perfectly amiable and often funny animation feature aimed largely at children but not childish or pandering in any way. The film comes from DreamWorks Animation, a studio with considerable ambitions yet one that rarely rises to the world-class standards of Pixar. Despite its charms, “Home” continues that second-place mentality.
Indeed with Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment’s “Despicable Me” franchise (released through Universal) and a revitalized Walt Disney (under Pixar’s John Lasseter, of course) now back in the animation game even second place may be in jeopardy for Jeffrey Katzenberg’s beleaguered animation studio.
“Home” should rack up decent box-office coin but the question of repeat business, which is how DreamWorks built its studio with “Shrek” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” is uncertain.
DreamWorks animators are apparently calculating that the space aliens of “Home” named Boov will inspire a hearty merchandizing bonanza not to mention that repeat business. They are designed somewhat like the Minions in the “Despicable Me” series, strange and small monolithic creatures that turn different colors and strut about on tiny legs.
They are walking contractions, however. They conquer Earth and its inhabitants without any trouble whatsoever, relegating humanity to Australia while the Boov take over all the other continents and human habitats.
Yet they seem very idiotic, even simple-minded, and actually admire their own cowardice. They are forever fleeing their arch-nemesis, the fearsome Gorg, across the many galaxies, believing to confront any enemy is foolish recklessness. So the Boov are kid-friendly and cute yet rule Earth only a few minutes into the movie.
It remains for one human preadolescent girl, who got overlooked in the Boov human-relocation operation, to form a friendship of sorts with the outcast among the Boov, who goes by the name of Oh.
In an effort to increase his popularity and invite friends to share his Earth housewarming party, Oh accidentally hits the “Send All” button on his intergalactic email, which means he copied the entire universe thus tipping off the Gorg to the Boov’s new planet. Oh indeed.
Now a fugitive from his own kind and on the run, he meets Gratuity Tucci, whose nickname, understandably, is “Tip.” Herself a lonely misfit, she reluctantly agrees to go on a road trip with Oh, a trip that takes them to Paris and then Australia (all for pretty vague reasons).
The voice cast is quite remarkable. Jim Parsons of the long-running “The Big Bang” TV series voices Oh, giving a sweet seriousness to his fractured English. Meanwhile music star Rihanna plays Tip with a street toughness and savvy that allows her to see through her companion’s many deceits.
For one thing Oh turns green when lying so that’s a dead giveaway right there. Oh has also modified Tip’s car — how does this young girl have a car? — so that it can fly across the Atlantic while spewing forth a variety of junk food and sodas. Handy, those little Boovian devils.
Tip’s quest is to find her mom, voiced by none other than Jennifer Lopez, while Oh would just like to escape the Boov’s cowardly and often clueless leader Smek, who is delightfully portrayed by Steve Martin.
All of which sets up enough slapstick, pratfalls and alien humor to carry the film through 94 swift minutes under the assured direction of Tim Johnson (“Antz,” “Kung Fu Panda Holiday”).
Over familiarity somewhat hampers “Home.” Along with the Boov seeming like Minions of a different color, the film shares DNA with “Lilo & Stitch” while the globetrotting is lifted from DreamWorks’ own “Madagascar” series and the cross-species buddy film might remind you of “Shrek.”
Also a cartoon must have its logic, even if its Loony Tune logic, and here “Home” falls a little short. Things seem to happen because screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, adapting a novel by Adam Rex, deem them expedient.
At one point near the end, our pal Oh manages to be two places at once — or so it seemed on a first viewing. All motivations, causation and consequences in the Boovian-ruled Earth remain vague.
But the voice cast turns in stellar work and the film never lags for even a moment. Lopez also turns up on the soundtrack, on the song “Feel the Light,” while Rihanna contributes several new tunes, including her latest single, “Dancing in the Dark.”
Opens March 27, 2015 (20th Century Fox)
Production company: DreamWorks Animation
Voice cast: Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Matt Jones
Director: Tim Johnson
Screenwriters: Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember
Based on a novel by: Adam Rex
Head of story: Todd Wilderman
Producers: Suzanne Buirgy, Mireille Soria, Christopher Jenkins
Production designer: Kathy Altieri
Music: Lorne Balfe and Stargate
Editor: Nick Fletcher
PG rating, 94 minutes