Based on the novel “The True Meaning of Smekday” by Adam Rex, HOME is a sweet animated film that is equal parts cheery and poignant. Aimed more at kids than at adults, it takes the time-honored themes of friendship, family, and keeping promises and wraps them in an imaginative new package as shiny and inviting as the one HOME’s heroine, Tip, longs to deliver to her mother.
The hero of the film is a far less likely candidate. While Tip (Rihanna) is resourceful, brave, and determined 12-year-old girl, Oh hails from an alien race, the Boov, a bubble-based civilization whose greatest accomplishment is a gift for running away. That they have six pods to aid their squarish and gelatinous bodies to do just that is no doubt an example of the triumph of Darwinism.
Their latest lam has brought them to Earth, re-named Smekland in honor of their leader, and master of scuttling away, Smek (Steve Martin). Certain that the humans from whom they are taking possession of the planet are in dire need of their help in running things, the Boov relocate the humans to Happy Human towns rife with the sweetened, frozen bovine secretions that their cursory research has shown to be the favored human fare. They take over the cities, relegating such useless items as yellow umbrellas and accordions to giant balls floating over the newly occupied cities. It is in one of these that Tip and her cat, Pig, has been hiding while planning how to find her mother, who was spirited away during the mass relocation. And it is in that same city that Oh, so named because of the anguished cry of his fellow Boov who have the misfortune to run into his irritating perkiness, has made his latest hilarious but dangerous mistake: accidentally summoning, via e-mail, the Boov’s fearsome enemy, the Gork, to a housewarming party.
What follows has all the standard tropes of enemies finding out that they have a great deal in common, but done with a rare intelligence that makes the story more than just a fast-paced fantasy. It’s also a fine commentary on imperialism, colonialism, and blind obedience that is never didactic, but always starkly obvious. While those elements are introduced for the problem that they are, there is also a fine sense of compassion for the all-too human (and non-human) fallibility, and fear, which make them possible until they are pointed out for what they are.
In making a non-human, oversized gummy square relatable, and even sympathetic, the animators here have triumphed. From the oversized eyes, to the tightly coiled horn-like structures, to a surprisingly evocative slit of a mouth, Oh has the appeal of a stuffed animal with the razzle-dazzle of changing color with his emotional shifts. When he realizes that no one is coming to his party, Oh’s reaction is a perfect picture of tender feelings trampled. Parsons delivers the eccentric syntax and general bemusement of Oh’s reaction to all things human with a disarming innocence and genuine sense of mascent wonder. Rihanna’s voice is suitably spunky, while Martin has owned clueless megalomania for decades, and does not stint on that magic here.
HOME is all about discovering what is worth crossing an ocean, either of water or of space, to find. Full of warmth, gentle humor, and rich imagination (think weaponized nachos and sugary alternative fuel sources), it may be the perfect kid’s film, and one that adults won’t mind seeing with their little ones.