In the new kids' animated movie Home, some unbearably cute aliens come to Earth and take our planet away from us, imprisoning the humans in, basically, reservations. And in the process, the movie manages to use cuteness to tell kind of a thoughtful story about imperialists who think of themselves as victims. Spoilers ho...
So Home is based on the way more memorably titled book The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. As we wrote back in 2012, the book is pretty clever and has a wild-and-crazy approach to alien invasion and friendship, with some weighty topics snuck in. The film-makers do take some liberties with the book, but mostly in a positive direction.
The plot of both things is more or less the same, though: Some aliens called the Boov come to Earth, to take our planet. And they move all of the humans to enclosed communities, while they take the remaining space for themselves. The Boov are actually fleeing from a much scarier set of aliens, the Gorg, who have already taken away the Boov homeworld.
So a small girl named Gratuity "Tip" Tucci (voiced by Rihanna) gets separated from her mom and goes looking for her. She teams up with a Boov named Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons from Big Bang Theory) who is in huge trouble because he accidentally told the Gorg where to find the Boov — and the Gorg may be coming to Earth.
Pretty much everything in this movie is organized around cuteness as a central principle. The Boov are pretty adorable — they're not unlike the minions from Despicable Me, only with tentacles instead of feet. The Boov change color to reflect their emotions, and they're framed as a conformist society that views running away from danger as the only valid response. And they idolize their leader, Captain Smek, who is the best at running away. Oh is a weird nonconformist who wants to be social and have parties, and the other Boov ignore him. When Oh first meets Tip, she sees him as just another one of the invaders and distrusts him — but they eventually strike up a friendship.
Also ridiculously cute: 1) Tip's cat, named Pig. 2) The Boov technology, which is entirely based on bubbles, including a very bubble-centric user interface. 3) The flying car that Oh creates for Tip, which is cobbled together out of stuff from a convenience store, including three flavors of slurpee. 4) Tip herself, who's a supersmart, resourceful and only slightly bratty girl who was a social outcast when her mom moved her from Barbados to New York.
Everything in this movie is in the service of cuteness. EVERYTHING. The big set pieces are ridiculously cute, including a lot of stuff involving floating objects turning upside down and bubbles colliding. The sad, tear-jerking moments (of which there are a few) are also pretty lovable, including a lovely bit where the flying car is "parked" over the middle of the ocean. And the whole "buddy comedy" vibe between Rihanna and Parsons works way better than I'd hoped, while still being basically cute-tastic.
And the movie gets a lot of comedy mileage out of the vision of aliens appropriating our stuff and doing weird things with it — eating famous paintings, drinking out of our toilets, and cramming the stuff they deem worthless (like bicycles) into big flying bubbles. As usual, there's something kind of liberating about watching everything be torn up and tossed out, and the vision of a world without humans (except for Tip) is kind of cool.
And you have to admire the sneaky way the film brings up real-life issues about colonization and displacement — which are definitely part of the explicit subject of the book — without ever seeming preachy. The massively cute aesthetic of the film allows a lot of really weighty historical stuff to sneak in under the radar. This is a fantasy about internment, and shantytowns (that look like suburbia), and it manages to seem sweet and harmless without copping out too much — which is no small achievement.
The Boov, who have a massively oversimplified view of humans, believe that they know what's best for us and that they'll make our lives better just by coming and taking our planet away from us. And meanwhile, the Boov are intent on seeing themselves purely as victims, because of their persecution at the hands of the Gorg.
In the end, to the extent that there's a message for the audience, it's very gentle and fuzzy. And it's wrapped in lots of other stock messages about friendship and keeping promises to your friends and the advantage of running towards danger instead of away from it. But the mystery of the Boov and the Gorg has a surprising, slightly subversive twist, one which turns the whole story on its head. (The movie's ending is drastically different than the book's, in a way that actually feels a bit more subversive.)
And in the end, this movie's cute aesthetic is both good and bad. It makes you almost okay with the idea of the human race being subjugated and relocated, proving that moral judgments are no match for the Power of Cute. But it also allows the movie to make some sly points about the ways in which conquerors and people with all the power tend to see themselves as both superior and also as the real victims.
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