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When gentrifiers attack

'Home' balances cartoon trifle with timely allegory.


CARBONATED AND SPRY ALIEN INVASION: Rihanna and Jim Parsons provide voices in "Home" image
  • CARBONATED AND SPRY ALIEN INVASION: Rihanna and Jim Parsons provide voices in "Home."

Finally, someone made a cute animated allegory about gentrification and cast the biggest nerd from "The Big Bang Theory" as the universe's most adorable yuppie. Jim Parsons, the droll Sheldon of sitcom fame, plays Oh, a chipper-to-the-point-of-naive member of a planet-hopping alien race called the Boov. They specialize in running away from another alien race that looks like something a Scandinavian hair-metal band drew in black ink while trying to explain what a Romulan is. The Boov, though, are Christmas-ready squidlike purple chunks, with big eyes and a tendency to change colors as they experience different emotions: anger's red, lying is bright green, affection is a shade of pink you know best from the neon in your favorite topless bar.

They're coming to Earth as another fine refuge, but to do that, they must first relocate every person on the planet to what look like Floridian subdivisions they magically whip up somewhere in Australia. The spaceships come with wandering nozzles and vacuum up the entire world's population, gloonk, gloonk, gloonk. Then the Boov descend in little ships, each with a single carry-on, and move into the empty apartments. They scoot about literally in bubbles, and tell one another they're doing the humans a big favor, for improving the planet. Sniff the air, and you'll swear you can almost smell a coffee drink with the suffix-ccino.

Trouble arrives when Oh tries to invite Boov to his warming of house party (he gets his own syntax, in Parsons' hyperarticulation) and accidentally emails the entire galaxy, including the ferocious rival aliens. In New York and on the lam from his fellow Boov, Oh bumbles into a tween immigrant named Tip, who, like Rihanna, the actress who voices her, was born in Barbados. She's missing her alien-vacuumed mom; Oh needs a getaway car; so they fall into a worldwide road trip once he modifies her econobox to be a flying mashup of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and a Dance Dance Revolution arcade machine.

The whole setup seems a little too much like baby's first "Independence Day," but it at least feels carbonated and spry, with the obligatory lessons about the importance of family and friendship. It stays amusing enough, though, without really generating much in the way of belly laughs. Director Tim Johnson has made a career out of second-tier digitally animated films — "Antz" is probably his best — and ably commands a safe, pleasant way to while away an hour and a half on a weekend. There's wit enough in the screenplay that the brighter kids will be repeating lines. Adults will notice Steve Martin as the cluelessly antagonistic Boov leader.

But the theme of the rich swallowing up cities and displacing residents is also prominent enough that this is a fine film for an 8-year-old showing the early sparks of subversive tendencies. (All the best subversive thought, after all, begins with empathy.) What, you could ask such a child, do we notice about the Boov? Well, they're self-congratulating and emotionally detached. They don't want to participate in the culture of their neighbors, and they think parties are lame. They want to move into nice homes in nice areas without considering the consequences for the folks they displace. That Tip is an immigrant herself, who loves to dance and who misses her mother, only underscores the gulf. It's hard to watch "Home" and not think of the Finance-financed Ivy things who now live in New York's one-time bohemian enclaves and the flocks of new-money tech bros flooding into California's formerly weird metropolises. But then, without that strain of upwardly mobile geek, who would draw or write "Home"?

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