Dreamworks in Crisis
I hate to say it guys but I’m calling it- Dreamworks time of death, March 2015. Let’s give a little bit of background. For years Dreamworks has been battling it out with Disney and Pixar scoring some hits with particularly the Shrek films being the apex of their financial success. They’ve also had creative victories like the How to Train Your Dragon series, Kung Fu Panda and Prince of Egypt. Unfortunately they have been unable to curtail costs so even seeming successes were actually studio failures.
Last year it all came to fruition with 3 releases. Mr Peabody and Sherman with a budget of 145 mil (ridiculous for a comedy like that) made 272 million at box office. This might seem pretty good but when you take into account theater shares and marketing they took a 57 million hit on it. Then they had How to Train Your Dragon 2, a healthy success, with budget of 145 million (see Sherman should not have cost as much as HTTYD2!) making 618 million. Most of these proceeds were overseas (over 400 million of it) and it was significantly less than its predecessor so on the whole a disappointment (total profit 107 million).
Then we had Penguins of Madagascar, a fun comedy which cost $132 million and made $367 million Sounds pretty good right? Nope that 132 doesn’t include incentive based pay to the actors! So in the end they took another 57 million hit on Penguins. This is after losing 87 million on Rise of the Guardians and 13.5 million for Turbo in 2013. As you can see whatever good Dragon did is quickly evaporated.
Then at the end of last year they closed their PDI animation studio laying off 1/3rd of their artists.
That’s where we get to their latest release, Home. I think many of us were hoping this could be a Frozen size savior for the studio but sadly it is far, far, from that. In fact, if I am honest it is closer to this years’ George Lucas offering Strange Magic than anything else. It cost $135 million to make and I have a hard time believing it will do better than Mr Peabody and Sherman which was actually pretty clever. So in other words another loss.
I’m grasping at straws to find things I liked about Home but there isn’t much.
The best thing I can say about home is that it is harmless. Kind of like Strange Magic there is nothing offensive or off putting. Your kids will be moderately entertained so if you need a babysitter you could do worse but that is about it.
Home is based on the book The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, which my sister says is quite brilliant. It is about an alien named Oh that is the ‘most special’ character in his entire race like we’ve seen in movies from Twilight to the Host to Harry Potter. What makes him unique? Well, he makes mistakes and likes to have friends and be happy. Not exactly defeating Lord Voldemort but we will go with it.
He is part of a race called the boovs who run away from their nemesis and conquer other planets. They have just conquered earth and sucked up all the humans relocating them all to Australia. I suppose if I had been more engaged I wouldn’t have been left asking so many questions about this basic premise. For example, why do the boov know enough about humans to build houses for every human family, evidently recreate hospitals, schools, and even an amusement park and yet they do not know something like ‘humans live in families and have a Mother and a Father’?
How do the boov know how to run everything in a city like New York and yet are eating paintings, footballs and using a hair dryer for an inhaler? How do they know how to work a power plant and yet the lights are always on? How are they planning on getting food in this land they have conquered and wouldn’t gathering all of the human race in one place be a really bad idea? Nothing like 6 billion humans that have mastered interstellar flight and atomic warfare all together on an island…especially for a race that is evidently so gun shy?
Also why does Oh drink gasoline, motor oil, eat plastic and yet is disgusted by a blue tablet and urine from a restroom? I think that is an attempt to be funny but it doesn’t really make sense so it didn’t make me laugh. It would have been more funny if he had loved the urine and blue tablet. I mean if we are stooping to that level isn’t that funnier?
I know I’m overthinking it but again it just shows how disengaged I was with the story and characters that I started asking these questions.
So our misfit Oh tries to throw a party for his new neighbors but nobody in his race likes him or parties (which again makes me ask how does he even know what a party is? And yet he has a banner, appetizers, the whole works..).
Nobody comes to his party and so he goes outside to try and get people to go but his ‘friend’ doesn’t want to so he sends him an ‘e-vite’ (these aliens still use email and internet just like us) but the email to the party he is currently having goes to the entire galaxy including their sworn enemy, a woefully undeveloped ‘bad guys with spaceship’ called the vrogs I think.
The leaders of the boov’s try to arrest Oh with the captain played by Steve Martin who is actually only in 3 scenes of the movie.
But Oh runs off before he can give the boov his password to stop the email. (Always bad in a movie when the entire plot could be resolved by a 3 minute conversation…). In his running he bumps into a girl named Tipp who was left behind by the human relocation and is trying to find her Mother. She is far too calm and collected for someone who’s entire race and Mother has been sucked up by aliens. Plus, her car has been hidden by trash. How did she know to do that? And why hasn’t the trash been sucked up by the unnecessary item balls? They are sucking up bikes wouldn’t they suck up her car? And would she have been the only human to escape? Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have had a few that band together with Oh?
She is voiced by Rhianna and it is a terrible piece of voice casting. She sounds like a grown woman and I was never exactly sure how old she was supposed to be. She sounds like a grown up, looks like a child but can drive and yet she talks about getting an A in 8th grade geometry. At best it is completely bland.
Oh is voiced by Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parson and the two of them are the only characters in the movie for 90% of the film and he isn’t right for the part either. It just sounds too much like Sheldon which was distracting. But I have a hard time blaming him because the part was written a lot like Sheldon and didn’t give him much to work with. He’s socially awkward and oblivious most of the time. I like Big Bang Theory but I know it has its haters and they will definitely find the voicework very annoying but again I don’t think anything Parsons could have done would have saved the character.
Most of the movie is a road trip story full of road trip movie cliches. Tipp and Oh must go to Paris to enter the password (I guess no cell phones in this world even though the Boov have these little tablet things) and then to Australia to find Tipp’s Mother voiced by Jennifer Lopez who has maybe 3 lines in the movie.
A lot of people will want to compare this to Lilo and Stitch, a movie that grows on me the more I see it. Lilo and Stitch is not a perfect film but it is far superior to this mess. First of all Lilo is a much more complex character than we ever get from Tipp. She is strange but in interesting ways. We see her interacting with students and fighting with her sister. We see her crying and mourning her parents before Stitch is even introduced.
Stitch is also a consistent character. He is a wild creature and pretty mean throughout, to the point of frustrating me as a viewer. Here Oh is sometimes smart when the plot needs to be and other times stupid. He sometimes understands complex words and other times speaks in 2 word phrases. He’s whatever the plot needs him to be which makes it really boring and hard to root for.
I really did not care about Oh or Tipp’s journey because I knew exactly what was going to happen and the movie didn’t give me any reason except for telling us ‘people think I’m strange’… Lilo is pulling heads off of her dolls. We know she is strange and we are rooting for her because of it.
It’s also a little unclear if the Steve Martin character is intentionally lying to everyone about their enemy and the ‘shush stick’ or if he is just too stupid to know. If he is lying on purpose than he is a really bad alien and that sense of evil is never laid out at all. I mean this is Darth Vader bad if he is conquering planets and relocating everyone.
The lesson of the story is that ‘everyone makes mistakes’ and that you should ‘run towards your fears’ not away from them (I don’t know if I agree with that last one…). Again this is usually told to us not actually shown. Lilo and Stitch conquers weighty themes of family, grief, loss and it does it with the gravitas perhaps only Disney can muster. Plus, it looks so unique with the watercolors and the Hawaiian feel. Home looks anything but unique.
A movie like Penguins of Madagascar works because it was funny. The script was very clever that it could overcome a silly story. I’m not saying it was a masterpiece but it made me laugh. Same with Mr Peabody and Sherman. Home did not make me laugh one time.
Like I said at the intro if you take your kids they won’t be miserable. It’s harmless but I said the same thing for Strange Magic and that movie at least had voicework that made sense.
I’m sorry Dreamworks I want to help you out but I can’t in good conscience give this any higher than the D I gave Strange Magic. It just doesn’t deserve it. (This movie has 5 people listed in the voice cast. Why on earth did it cost $135 million to make? In contrast, Pixar’s Bugs Life with a huge cast cost $120 million!).
The music is by Rihanna and it is nice but feels like it is written for a different movie. It is dark and solemn when they are just flying across the ocean or walking around. It’s not nearly fun enough for this kind of movie (think Happy by Pharrell for Despicable ME 2. That made sense.). The whole Rihanna choice was just wrong all the way around. What a disappointment and the absolute worst timing for a Dreamworks dud.
If any of you see it let me know what you think.
Overall Grade- D, Content Grade- A