On the run from a planet-destroying enemy race pint-sized purple hive-minded aliens the Boov relocate to Earth. After enacting a 'friendly' invasion that involves dumping the entire human population in a distant, secluded habitat, the Boov settle into their new home certain they can never be found. That is until a hapless misfit Boov named Oh (voiced by The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons) foolishly transmits an intergalactic invite to his house-warming party that is intercepted by their enemies: the Gorg. Forced to flee his enraged fellow Boov, Oh runs across a little girl called Gratuity 'Tip' Tucci (Rihanna), the one human being to have evaded capture. Together these mismatched misfits embark on a journey around the world, chased by Boov agents working for Captain Smek (Steve Martin), in search of Tip's missing Mom (Jennifer Lopez).
Whereas Pixar positioned themselves as heirs apparent to Disney, DreamWorks Animation initially set out to be a sassy alternative in the Warner Brothers mould with zany fairytale or superhero spoofs. Lately however, especially in the wake of the more sincere and nuanced How to Train Your Dragon movies, the studio have sought to counterbalance their tendency towards snarky humoured karaoke-fests and strive for Pixar levels of emotional depth. This mix works well for the most part in Home which is adapted from the children's novel 'The True Meaning of Smekday' by Adam Rex. While the film deviates from Rex's critically-acclaimed source novel, removing certain characters and renaming others (ironically in the book Oh's original name is J.Lo. Yet while the real J.Lo was apparently tickled by the idea, legal barriers necessitated the name-change) it delivers a rare and welcome black lead in a children's movie. It also features what is probably Rihanna's best performance in a movie for that is worth.
The set-up (misfit alien runaway meets troubled Earth girl) is undeniably similar to Disney's superior-crafted Lilo & Stitch (2002). Like that film Home touches on those more complex emotions and psychological issues underpinning childhood but ultimately upholds familiar messages about the importance of friendship and family. Which is fine. Those are lessons worth imparting to a young generation as a grounding for the more challenging complexities of adolescence and adulthood. The script, co-written by Tom Astle and Matt Ember, is none too subtle in its satirizing of conformity yet yokes genuine drama from the bond formed between two lonely, wounded, vulnerable misfits that allows them to heal each other. On the downside these attempts at pathos are too often hamstrung by the filmmakers constant need to bombard viewers with wacky non-sequitors and surprise gross-out gags (Oh eats a urinal cake and drinks pee. Mercifully off-screen, but eww!) More amusing is a running gag wherein the clueless Boov find increasingly creative if inaccurate uses for everyday Earth objects.
Typically for a DreamWorks production, Home has an overdose of frothy pop tunes including an understandable abundance of Rihanna though sadly also some J.Lo. On a technical level the animation is exceptional with a vibrant pop-up book look and some inspired sequences including likable bubble-themed editing transitions. If the seesaw effect of the narrative moving from wacky to tearful and back again proves a trifle wearying, at least the denouement yokes honest tears despite being suspiciously similar to the Japanese science fiction film Returner (2002). Which was itself derivative of multiple Hollywood movies so, er, never mind.