Jim Parsons Can't Escape Sheldon Cooper in 'Home'

Even though Jim Parsons is trying to distance himself from his Big Bang Theory character, his role in Home, like the film itself, feels awfully familiar.


Director: Tim Johnson
Cast: Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Steve Martin, Matt L. Jones
Rated: PG
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2015
US date: 2015-03-27 (General release)
UK date: 2015-02-20 (General release)

"Look: I have my hands in the air like I just do not care." The animated alien in Home here describing his efforts to dance at a party on earth is named Oh. He has many legs and one pair of arms, an apparently boundless enthusiasm, and also, Jim Parson's voice, which makes his awkward phrasing and cutesy sincerity a bit too familiar: that is, yet another version of Sheldon Cooper, Parsons' award-winning role on The Big Bang Theory.

This despite Parsons' recent declaration that he's looking to "move on" as a performer, that "I’m not usually looking at any more scientists right now." It's true that Oh is not technically a scientist, that he's a color-shifting roly-poly member of the Boov, a race come to earth to escape their mortal, mechanical, and scary-looking enemies, the Gorg. By the way, the Boov also wish to relocate earth's entire population to a camp called "Happy Humantown". But Oh is Sheldon too: socially clumsy, comically delusional, and malapropistic.

But even if you might worry (mildly) over Parson's career choices, Oh's retreading won't matter to Oh's target audience of seven-year-olds, who won't have been watching The Big Bang Theory for eight years. Those viewers also may not recognize Oh's plot in Home, essentially lifted from Lilo & Stitch, a movie released in 2002. This similarity mostly has to do with Oh's human partner, Tip (Rihanna), an immigrant to the US from Barbados whose mother (Jennifer Lopez) is kidnapped and relocated by Oh's Boovy associates; Oh promises to help Tip find her mom (whom he adorably calls "mymom", following her first, desperate expression of her loss).

Oh's theatrical audience may be enchanted by his endearing big eyes and scrambling feet, a tried-and-true cartoony combination that is only enhanced by his abject inability to put words together in standard format. This inability can be charming and roundabout educational, as when, during Oh and Tip's first encounter, she locks him in a convenience store freezer. Putting on his saddest cutesy alien's face, he pleads, "Can I come in from the out now?", a phrasing that not only describes his situation fairly literally but also exposes the cruelty of the binary of "in and out" when it comes to how people (or people and aliens) interact.

Home is more or less premised on refuting this cruel binary, encouraging kids to rethink conventions or family and otherness, fearfulness and he security of "home". As Oh and Tip travel together to Paris, earthly headquarters of the Boov, headed by the abjectly fearful Captain Smek (Steve Martin), they forge a friendship that resembles a new sort of family, sharing their experiences of alienation and loneliness, as well as dancing to Rihanna tunes, helpfully available on Tip's car radio. Oh (not a scientist, but a helpfully equipped alien) has transformed this car into a slurpees-powered hovercraft, such that they two can fly across the Atlantic ocean and engage in lovely reflective moments, the blue blue sea beneath them as they ponder their plights.

Such pondering is the stuff of animated kids' fare these days. While bodily functions jokes still tend to make kids' movies go (or decelerate, depending on your tolerance for such humor), these are regularly attended by life lesson messages. These are even more hackneyed than Sheldon (a well worn type before Parsons started playing him), and here they're delivered with a decided lack of energy. Each scene might be predicted well in advance, from the parallel misfits identifications and the early conflict between Oh and Tip to the music is magic moments and the triumphant we can do it revelations.

It's disappointing -- and yes, clichéd -- that the corporations that can afford to mount and market large scale family entertainments are so prone not to be creative. Instead, they tend to do what everyone else has done, precisely because of the upfront investments. This holds true even as such movies preach to kids that taking risks is the way to discover themselves, meet new friends, and even forge better and stronger relationships with adults, who are, of course, usually inept or sometimes self-serving and exponentially craven, as Captain Smek is here. It's pleasant enough to see that Oh learns not to believe everything he's told (very Lego Movie) and Tip learns to trust a new buddy (very Lilo & Stitch), but none of their intersecting storylines are especially moving, charming, or innovative.

You hope that a new movie about a girl with "beautiful brown skin", as Tip's mother says, might offer a new way to think about her, her world, and her experiences. Tip's hair is meticulously rendered in every shot, but still, she's framed in the same way so many animated white boys have been framed before. It's good to fit in, except when the point of the new saga is that it is, well, new.

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