By: Delaney Stovall
In March of last year, DreamWorks released a film almost immediately beloved by Tumblr with a rather odd cast including Rhianna and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory). It premiered at the top of the box office during its opening weekend and given DreamWorks recent struggles, was deemed fairly successful despite rather poor critical response. I followed Home before it was released but was unable to watch it while it was in theaters. It recently came to Netflix and I was able to watch it at last.
I will not sugarcoat my, albeit, late review but I do believe the film deserves an analysis on two fronts. First, simply as an animated film and its value as such. Second, the parallels and deeper connotations to the film, which are possibly unintentional but present nonetheless.
Home, as correctly touted by Tumblr, is an adorable, almost sickeningly sweet human-befriends-alien film with a wonderful, bright, and lovable POC main character. Voiced by Rhianna, Tip certainly makes the film, but unfortunately, Tip is the only shining part of Home and is not even the true main character. Jim Parson’s character Oh is an accident-prone and outcast member of the Boov, an alien race not dissimilar to the Tivolians in Doctor Who and perpetually fleeing from the Gorg, a terrifying, violent, and more technologically advanced race than the Boov. The Boov, again fleeing the Gorg and led by Smek with his suspicious “Shusher,” invade Earth. All humans are evacuated and relocated to an all human settlement so the Boov can settle. Tip manages to escape relocation but sets out to find her mother who had been taken, which coincides with the disastrous results of Oh’s attempted house warming party which ends up broadcasting the Boov’s new location to the Gorg. Alien fugitive, girl, and cat embark on an entertaining journey to find “My Mom.” When the credits roll, all is well, the conflict with the Gorg resolved, Oh is a hero, and mother and daughter reunited. All in all, a fairly typical, innocuous plot.
However, the film becomes tiresome after only ten minutes. Though the film maybe deserves some credit for not ignoring that alien races would not speak English, the Boov’s weak grasp of English is played for laughs and probably in an attempt to make Oh and his fellows more “adorable.” As the daughter of a speech path, I am perhaps a bit too sensitive to such strategies as they encourage poor habits in young native speakers but this speech pattern is a common tool for mocking non-native speakers. Simply put, having an entire race of aliens speak “like children” for an entire ninety minutes is irritating and poor form on essentially every level.
The film is adorable. They make a car fly using a slushie machine and Tip’s cat Pig is precious. The plot is not clever or new or really that interesting but having a mother-daughter dynamic is definitely not underappreciated. Yet, the single line, which the importance of cannot be overstated, of “She has big green eyes and beautiful brown skin,” said by Tip’s mother, does not rescue the film’s quality. Home is cute and funny but just falls flat. There is no narrative substance.
In no way does this diminish the great strides this film makes for representation and diversity in animation. Tip is a bright, cheerful mixed girl just trying to find her mom and in no way does her race become a feature of the film or a plot point. She simply is.
The underlying premise and establishment of the Boov, however, create interesting, perhaps unintentionally, but still intriguing parallels and commentary on imperialism which could provide depth to an otherwise lackluster film. The Boov are running from the Gorg and the film makes it clear that they have been running from the Gorg for quite some time. They find planets and settle on them while displacing the natives. The Boov, as heavily suggested by Oh’s experience, are well practiced at this process. They are given pamphlets on the natives that boil them down to a few sentences and by the time they arrive, there are no natives as they have all been shipped off to a cute, fun new home. In this case, the human race is moved to Australia. Through interactions with Tip, we learn from Oh that the Boov are convinced that the humans love them, that they are happy with the invasion and their resettlement. The Boov leader Smek mocks Tip at one point, insulting her intelligence.
It all sounds a bit familiar, does it not? There are an infinite amount of instances to be chosen from that align precisely with the Boov’s shuttling humans into bubbles and flying them to their bright, “happy” new lives. Tip does object to the Boov’s attitude and Oh comes to learn that he and his kind are not appreciated for “liberating” them, a term actually used in the film, but the condemnation of what the Boov represent is not fully explored. The genocide of native peoples is even touched upon in the film though of course in a much colorful and less terrifying way than reality. The Gorg had been hunting the Boov because Smek had stolen the entire next generation of the Gorg. A single Gorg had tracked them all throughout the universe. Of course no one knew that Smek’s “shusher,” a stick with a rock on it held an entire generation in it, but the implication along with a conquering race cannot be ignored. This all is easily gleaned from the film but the movie of course does nothing to expound upon these dark matters.
It must be noted that the film is based off of The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex which could quite possibly and probably does give these issues and ideas greater thought.
Overall, Home is the typical slightly elevated and more interesting “kid’s movie,” but aside from being groundbreaking in representation and the very slight possibility that the deeper messages on imperialism were purposefully implemented, which of course sound very impressive on the onset, it really is not that great to watch. It is bright and bubbly and frankly, annoying.