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March 27, 2015

You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve seen Home before now. Dreamworks’ new feature is an outgrowth of the short titled Almost Home, which was attached to a few different animated features last year. Blue Sky did something similar with a couple Scrat shorts leading up to Ice Age: Continental Drift, with one key difference: Almost Home offers a quick on-ramp into understanding the adorable Boov invaders of Home, while Ice Age was just another round with characters we were already bored with.

But yes, the squat, semi-solid, color-changing Boov are endlessly expressive, making them the perfect silly backdrop for a kids’ animated feature. We’re familiar with the self-aggrandizing Captain Smek (Steve Martin) from Almost Home, where he took all the credit for finding the Boov a new planet, and spread the blame around when things went south. Now the Boov have come to Earth where, despite their generally cowardly nature, their technology makes short work of rounding all the humans up and relocating them to an isolated Smektown.

Well, almost all of them. A sensor malfunction lets the young Gratuity “Tip” Tucci (Rihanna) escape capture, along with her cat, Pig. She runs into Oh (Jim Parsons), a hapless Boov on the run. While attempting to force an e-vite on his “best friend” Kyle (Matt L. Jones) — who, like most Boov, wants nothing to do with Oh — he accidentally hit send-all, which in this case means literally everyone, including the Gorg who the Boov were all running from in the first place.

Parsons is playing basically the same character he always does, but it’s the perfect fit for this role. If you like his manner on The Big Bang Theory — setting aside your qualms about representation of scientist characters — you’ll love him here. His delivery pairs with the whimsical character animation to make Oh one of the more charming things you’ll see on a screen this year, even more than the rest of the Boov. And he works perfectly with Tip’s mixture of confidence and vulnerability.

Speaking of Tip, can we just stop for a moment to say how perfectly DreamWorks has handled her? It’s rare enough for the lead in an animated movie aimed at kids to be female, a teenage girl of color in such a role is all but unheard of. And unlike the only other example that comes to mind — Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, a.k.a. “the black one” — they don’t spend the entire movie congratulating themselves about it and exoticizing her.

Literally the only major human character in the film is a Barbadian girl, and it passes almost without comment. The only time it comes up at all is when Tip expresses her frustration that she already had enough problems fitting in at school after moving to New York, and even that experience of alienation is pretty universal at her age. She is defined by her wit, her humor, her courage, and her compassion, and not at all by what her body looks like. There is no reason that this character has to be a girl or come from Barbados, but there’s no reason this role always has to be filled by a white guy either, and it’s about time someone else got their turn.

The story is slight, yes, but it’s sweet and charming, even for a jaded old-timer who can see the big twist coming a mile off. Kids will love it for sure, at least until the Minions arrive this summer.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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