Candied pastels, manic bursts of action, and Rihanna songs dominate Home, the latest release from struggling DreamWorks Animation. In the oversaturated market for CGI-animated kids' films, Home doesn't stand out as anything special: it's another conspicuously packaged product seemingly designed to wear down an audience more than entertain it. While wee ones won't notice, they probably won't remember Home by the time the car ride gets them back to the real thing.
Based upon the Adam Rex novel The True Meaning of Smekday, Home proposes that an alien race called the Boov, distinguished only by their skill of running away, has selected Earth (a.k.a. "Best Planet Ever") as its latest intergalactic colonial hideout from pursuers the Gorg. And so it is that the entire human population is Hoover-ed up and deposited in cheery-looking but cramped tract housing in Australia, making way for the Boov to move into our dwellings.
Almost as soon as this massive undertaking is accomplished—under the goofy leadership of Captain Smek (Steve Martin)—a lowly, lonely outcast Boov named Oh (Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory) screws it all up by accidentally e-viting the universe (Gorg included) to his "warming of the house" party. You'll just have to swallow that lazy, ridiculous plot twist to embark on Oh's adventure of 1) running away from the authorities, 2) encountering and uneasily teaming up with last free human Gratuity "Tip" Tucci (Rihanna), and 3) fixing the latest in his long string of mistakes (he has 62 strikes against him with Captain Smek).
Naturally, "Tip" just wants to reunite with her beloved mother (Jennifer Lopez, who supplies one song to Rihanna's five). Needing a lift, Oh pimps Tip's ride by tricking out the car to fly and stocking it with corner-market amenities like icy-drink fuel and a hot-dog grill (making convenience-store fare cool to kids isn't "Home"'s finest hour). And off they go into the wild blue yonder, Oh reluctantly delaying his plan to run away to Antarctica to hug penguins. What follows is entirely predictable, with enemies Tip and Oh becoming frenemies, then friends (as Tip's habitually unimpressed cat Pig looks on) on the way to a double-climax: resolution of the maternal separation and a Gorg showdown, with attendant opportunities for both Tip and Oh to play hero.
For an alien-invasion story, Home can be pretty cute at times, and director Tim Johnson (Over the Hedge) can boast some imaginative design elements around the wildly weird Boov tech. Also, there are nominal themes of overcoming conformity despite ostracization ("I don't fit in," says Oh. "I fit out"), not taking home for granted and, well, caring. But ultimately the movie can't shake the impression of being disposable cineplex filler. With apologies to The Wizard of Oz, there are many places like Home.