Even at its most decrepit and dying, Dreamworks Animation Studios has been one of the few huge international animation powerhouses to actually challenge Pixar or Walt Disney Animation Studios (which probably comes from its founding as a great big “fuck you” to both studios by former employee Jeffrey Katzenberg). Even if I’m more often a fan of the former two than DWA, this has allowed for a pretty attractive balance in American animation (especially computer generated) and so it was slightly to my dismay to witness DWA go through a severe chain of commercial misfire after misfire from 2012 to 2014, forcing several loss writedowns and causing an infamous layoff of hundreds of workers.
The trailer for Home did not look attractive by any means (I distinctly remember seeing it before The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water and hearing somebody behind me go “they’re giving our kids autism with that.” to the laughter of everyone else in the theater) and all but screamed the same sort of financial bombing that Rise of the Guardians and Turbo were, the sort that Dreamworks Animation simply couldn’t afford any longer. It spelled the doom for the animation studio.
Fast-forward to the weekend of Home‘s US release, which also was the weekend It Follows came to Miami. I decided to re-watch the latter with my friend to show him why I was raving at him about it after seeing it in Cannes and we happen to find out, to our surprise (mine pleasant), that Home is in fact selling out and that it’s actually turning out to not be the nail in the coffin it was thought to be. In fact, with the certainty of Kung Fu Panda 3 running up right behind it, Home might very well have been the movie that saved the animation studio.
Fast-forward to me watching it later that week and I unpleasantly unsurprised by how its trailer wasn’t lying about how banal it is.
Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you can’t be anymore formulaic or generic on the storytelling or voice acting aspect if you tried and Dreamworks Animation is a studio that has tried in the many years it has been around.
That story – adapted by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember from the children’s book The True Meaning of Smekday – rushes through settling us into a scenario where the nomadic alien race Boov have invaded Earth as the latest in their long series of planet-size hideouts from the more powerful and menacing Gorg. Being benevolent and non-violent, the Boov instead simply exile the humans to Australia as they settle into the newly vacated homes. One such Boov, Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons), who has a long-standing history of not falling entirely in line with Boov customs and messing up the plans of the egotistical Captain Smek (Steve Martin), gets into trouble that leads to his status as a fugitive among the Boov and runs into “Tip” Tucci (Rihanna) – you will know her first name, but typing it alongside her nickname will make me punch my computer – a human girl who had somehow evaded Australia re-settlement and now searches for her mother. Oh and Tip team up together to keep from Boov capture and find their way into fixing Oh’s latest grand fuck-up (which may prove fatal to this last-ditch sanctuary for his race) and reuniting Tip and her mother, with her cat Pig along for the ride.
Like I said, extremely generic, right down to shoving in music cues by our celebrity pop star voices of Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez. The story is excessively simple to the point that you could probably follow it with the sound turned off, and truth be told, it’d probably be soooooooo much better that way.
For you see, Home reaches an all-time low in possibly having performances that make me dislike being around its lead characters for 90 minutes. Because you can’t really read the names Jim Parsons and Rihanna in an acting context and have very high hopes for what they do. Rihanna is painfully forced into functional mode, the kind of stiff and wooden speaking that only lets you know where the character’s emotion is at without any allowance for her to evolve or any string of thought between those modes. It’s honestly better than I expected, if Battleship was any sign, but it’s not much more different in voice acting than having Hayden Christensen’s ups-and-downs from the Star Wars prequels be heard without him seen visually. It also doesn’t help to have her voice a child, since she’s kind of too low a register for that. Or that Dreamworks Animation’s design of human characters is still just as shaky as it had been for a long while.
And then comes Oh and man is he kind of a mixed bag for me. He, like all of the Boov, actually looks appealing for a children’s film protagonist, nice and bright purple and squishy in all sides with a smoothness in his shape to match. Most of the film actually looks good by matching this Boov aesthetic and having it translate from their spherical ships with reflective surfaces all around to accent the smoothness to the cool light color choices that actually turns around the movie from being depressing – given how it’s about aliens forcing their settlement into Earth and all. Also given how it’s bad.
Yet, Oh also happens to be voiced by Jim Parsons, a name which if you recognize, you recognize from The Big Bang Theory. And if you’re anything like me, you get annoyed by The Big Bang Theory because of performances like Parsons’. I think it’s hard to pick if Oh or Sheldon are worse for the actor. It’s probably deliberate that every line Oh says comes out in an awkward fashion even if we over look how impossible it is to get used to their broken manner of speech, but it only makes me so much more angry at how smugly annoying the whole character is made and how we’re expected to enjoy his company and *gasp* root for him the entire movie, getting in the way of finding his final revelations about isolation feeling as sweet as they should be by the end of the film.
So we have two performances that nearly trash the hell out of the movie, but by the end of it, it’s all so off-puttingly normal that I’m surprised I can care to remember it enough to review it, let alone to possibly hate it. Give me a few months and the re-watch may very well be faded from my brain, hell, maybe the return of Kung Fu Panda will soak it all away and give me more goodwill to be proud of what Home has done for DreamWorks Animated. Because for right now, it just has me whispering in the company’s ears quoting Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan saying “Earn this.”