E.T., sue “Home.” That’s advice you might want to pass along to Steven Spielberg’s famous alien in response to DreamWorks Animation’s latest, which rips off the 1982 classic while adding to it a strong dose of the “Despicable Me” franchise for good measure. The result may please very young viewers, but their parents will probably be more irritated than charmed.
The colorful, energetic but highly derivative picture begins with an invasion of earth by the extraterrestrial race called the Boov, little Minion-like critters that skitter about on a bunch of pods and change color like mood rings. Led by a self-important fellow called Smek (voiced by Steve Martin), who wields a staff atop which sits an odd-shaped rock, the Boov have become expert at running away from threats—particularly their chief enemy, the Gorg, who constantly pursue them in a huge ship. Smek prides himself on finding good hiding-places, and earth seems the perfect one.
So descending from their ships in bubble-pods, the Boov scoop up all the humans with vacuum-cleaner-like tubes, depositing them in charming pre-planned communities in Australia, where they’ll apparently live a life of contented indolence. The Boov take over the cities, ridding the streets of useless items like bicycles. Among them is Oh (Jim Parsons), the loquacious misfit among the highly conformist species; he wants friends, even hosting a housewarming party in his apartment (to which nobody comes, of course). He also blunders a lot, making mistakes that could lead to his exile—or worse.
Oh’s latest faux pas is to issue an on-line invitation to his party, which he accidently sends to everyone in the universe, including the Gorg. Threatened with punishment by Smek, Oh goes on the lam, eventually meeting up with the oddly-named Gratuity Tucci, or Tip (Rihanna), apparently the only human left on the outside—saved from the scoop because her cat Pig was sitting on her head. They team up to find Tip’s mother (Jennifer Lopez), who was transported to Oz, and cancel the outgoing message that will force the Boov to flee earth or face the wrath of the Gorg, thereby saving Oh’s color-coded hide. Without spoiling things, it’s safe to say that the two bond, Tip and her mom are reunited, Oh earns kudos among his kind, and the prospect of intergalactic warfare is avoided in the sweetest possible way. It’s a warm, fuzzy ending, emulating the stuffed toys that will probably be on the shelves by the time you read this.
“Home” seems to invite the sort of jokey, cleverly self-referential treatment that marked “Shrek,” but director Tim Johnson and writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (adapting Adam Rex’s book “The True Meaning of Smekday”) opt for a far blander course instead, relying largely on Parson’s linguistically addled delivery and the cute-as-a-button animation of Oh to delight youngsters, as it may well do even as adults find both increasingly annoying. (Oddly, the other Boov speak normally, so Oh’s weirdly off-kilter delivery must be yet one more thing that sets him apart.) Tip, meanwhile, might as well be short for Typical; she’s just the sort of high-spirited teen that’s become obligatory in these sorts of stories as audience surrogates. Still, Rihanna brings a considerable measure of likableness to her, even though the character is less than half her age. Less happy is the singer’s other vocal contribution: there are too many musical montages here, most by her, though Lopez is also employed on that score. On the mere dialogue side, Lopez doesn’t add much, nor—surprisingly—does Martin, whose wild and crazy side could have been employed to far greater effect than it is; Smek is loud and abrasive but ultimately a bit of a bore.
In the end “Home” is less an imaginative addition to the crowded kidflick field than a tidily manufactured collection of familiar, rather tired elements. Kids whose age hasn’t yet reached double digits probably won’t mind how formulaic it is, but anybody older than that is likely to feel that he’s being force-fed a somewhat stale meal.