“You can never go home again” is a phrase usually offered with a dash of rue, but DreamWorks Animation’s latest offering makes that maxim sound like a hopeful promise. Based on a kids’ novel with a fairly solid reputation, Home wastes very little time annoying the ever-loving heck out of anyone who doesn’t still coo “Oooh!” every time that instructional card commanding audiences to put their 3D glasses on now flashes up. With highly trained dorkiness, The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons narrates as the central goober known by all as Oh (as in, “Oh shit, this guy again!”). In an awfully tight contest, Oh is the most irritating of the Boov, a gelatinous alien race that moves from planet to planet like a pinball in a Three Stooges game trying to escape detection by the angry, retaliatory Gorgs.
The Boov arrive at Earth, relocate all inhabitants to densely packed social crop circles in Australia, and suspend all nonessential items into giant floating spheres of detritus hovering above the planet’s cities, in what constitutes the film’s one genuine visual coup. Because she had a cat on her head during the Boov’s mass Christmastime human-vacuuming operation, young Tip (Rihanna) gets left behind in a city now swarming with pint-sized, variety-show extraterrestrials. Oh accidentally sends an invite to his housewarming party to the entire galaxy, including the Gorgs, and gets banished. And just when you thought the plot couldn’t make any less sense, Oh retrofits a car so that it runs on Busta Lime-flavored slushie mix. Home’s exposition is a mess of forced zaniness, which leaves the rest of the film with a Swiss cheese foundation.
Or maybe the foundation’s rot runs deeper than what’s merely on the screen. The Boov themselves feel like the result of clueless corporate synergism rendered through a gauze of millennial nostalgia, for which the market has reached peak. They change hues like sentient blobs of Hypercolor material. They speak in comically fractured syntax like someone fed their scripts through a translation engine and then back to English again. When they dance, observers exclaim uncontrollably, “Shake your Boov thang!” They are chemically engineered footstools of high-fructose corn syrup that prey on kids’ stimulus-response potential like a doctor taking a hammer to that soft spot below the kneecap.
Maybe some of Home works in the moment. (I can admit to being pretty fond of Matt L. Jones’s deadpan befuddlement as a traffic cop tasked with finding the fugitive Oh.) And maybe its candy-shop visual strategy pays off in the short term. But whenever the movie turns to Oh and Tip bonding as the two go off in search of the latter’s relocated mother, or whenever Tip teaches Oh the complexity of human feelings, or whenever the audience is asked to feel “mad sad” along with either of them, the foundation simply isn’t there to support the gestures. And in those moments the film swings south faster than the Eiffel Tower penduluming down from the sky.