Now and then voice talent can make or break an animated feature.
It’s hard to imagine “Aladdin” or “Finding Nemo” without the vocal contributions of Robin Williams and Ellen DeGeneres. Jim Parsons provides a similar service in “Home.”
Parsons, a multiple Emmy winner for playing a scientific genius/social idiot on TV’s “The Big Bang Theory,” provides the voice of the alien Oh.
He makes this creature so attractive — even compelling — that it helps soften an overwritten and borderline creepy story.
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Oh has come to Earth along with about a million of his fellow Boov. They are a species of six-legged creatures with trash can bodies, froglike faces, prehensile ears and a chameleon’s ability to change their skin coloring to fit their emotions (red for angry, blue for sad, yellow for fear …).
Though they seize our world overnight — banishing the human population to camps in the Australian Outback that are part suburban subdivision, part carnival midway — the Boov aren’t particularly scary. They don’t kill or physically harm the dispossessed humans. They’re like a herd of shy preschoolers.
Except for Oh, who in comparison to his brethren is a radical rugged individualist. Aggressively garrulous and outgoing, he irritates his reticent comrades, who dread his friendly incursions into their personal space. He gets his name from the resigned reaction he gets from everyone: “Ohhh …” He’s a well-meaning boor upsetting an otherwise sedate environment.
But Oh is terribly amusing, chattering on in his own form of malaprop-heavy, English-mangling Yoda-speak.
“What is the purpose of your face?” (Translation: “Why do you have that look?”)
Or “I am saying the sorry to you.” (Translation: “I apologize.”)
Parsons delivers this tongue-twisting patter with a happy eagerness that is both amusing and ingratiating. Director Tim Johnson and writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (adapting Adam Rex’s 2011 children’s book “The True Meaning of Smekday”) take a page from the “E.T.” playbook. They team Oh with a human girl, Tip (nicely voiced by Rihanna), who with her fat cat Pig has avoided being taken by the Boov.
But Tip yearns to be reunited with her mother, now in a camp Down Under. With Oh’s technological know-how, Tip’s mother’s car is converted into a flying machine (employing hardware Oh cannibalizes from a convenience store), and the two set off on their quest.
There are complications. Oh and Tip are being pursued by the head of the Boov, the bombastic Captain Smek (Steve Martin), whose self-absorbed idiocy is strongly reminiscent of Julien the lemur king in the “Madagascar” series.
Worse, yet another alien species, the terrifying Gorg, have been chasing the Boov across the galaxy and, thanks to Oh’s fumbling, have detected their prey on Earth.
“Home” (a dull title that says nothing about the movie) has some good messages. For starters, there’s Tip and her mother (voiced by Jennifer Lopez), who are immigrants from the Caribbean. They’re people of color, but the movie makes no big deal of the fact.
There are positive messages about being yourself, not succumbing to the herd mentality. And about the meaning of family, a concept foreign to Oh’s people. And the joy of music, something else the Boov know nothing about.
The animation is exceptional, filling the screen with whimsical Boov “improvements” to our world. Earth becomes a sort of giant toy box filled with goofy visual delights.
Balanced against this is the unsettling notion of humans becoming a captive race. That the Boov round us all up with giant vacuum cleaners rather than with jackbooted storm troopers is meant to reassure, and the small fry will no doubt eagerly buy into the playfulness.
Grown-ups, though, may find themselves squirming a bit. After decades of cinematic aliens out to enslave us, it’s hard to regard the Boov as all that benign.
Read more of Robert W. Butler’s reviews at butlerscinemascene.com.
3-D OR NOT 3-D?
Like lots of recent animated films, the 3-D in “Home” is subtle. But because a few action sequences use the medium quite effectively, go ahead and cough up the extra bucks for 3-D.