Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 34 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 1; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 0.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
Romans 12:2 (J. B. Phillips)
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Over the years I have suggested such children’s films as Babe; Babe: Pig in the City; and The Iron Giant as great tools to teach children peacemaking. Now I can add Tim Johnson’s charming (though occasionally gross—fair warning) adaptation of Adam Rex’s book about two outsiders who become unlikely friends.
Many critics have been tepid in their reviews of this road-trip film, but I was thrilled to see how much it has to offer people of faith and their children. In a world in which kids see thousands killed in popular movies and TV shows, it is good to discover a film in which the invading aliens that take over Earth do not destroy humanity, but instead relocate them. They scoop people up via large vacuum tubes and transport them to Australia where they live in large communities scattered all over the continent called “Happy Humans Towns.” Presumably the aliens have installed the means for them to acquire the water that makes life possible on that largely dry continent. This is admittedly harsh, but better than what aliens do in such films as War of the Worlds.
The Boov are a race of six-legged aliens so timid that they run away from any perceived danger, their motto being “it’s never too late to run away.” They have been doing this for some time because another race called the Gorg persistently follow them wherever they flee. Led by the pompous Captain Smek (voiced by Steve Martin), the Boov move into the homes once owned by the humans. The Boov named Oh likes companionship, which differentiates him from others of his race who prefer the privacy of living far apart from neighbors. He has acquired his name because that is what everyone says in exasperation whenever he shows up and tries to befriend them.
As he says later in the film, “I do not fit in. I fit out.”
There is one human left in America, 12-year-old, Gratuity “Tip” Tucci (singer Rihanna), overlooked because she had hidden with her cat “Pig” in her blanket tent in their apartment when the humans were whisked away. She is determined to find her single parent mom Lucy (Jennifer Lopez). Her meet up with Oh is definitely not friendly at first, but when he fixes her broken car, they begin slowly to warm up to each other. Indeed, he not only repairs its engine, but transforms it into a flying machine fueled by slushies, thus enabling them eventually to travel to Australia, where Lucy has been searching for Tip.
Being totally unfamiliar with each other’s culture requires a lot of adjustment, as in this interchange when Oh spots Tip’s pet cat in the car:
Oh: Your vehicle is infested.
Tip: It’s not infested. He’s my pet. His name is Pig. Don’t touch him.
Oh: Now, he is vibrating. Is he going to explode?
Tip: No, he is just purring.
Oh: Why do you haves this thing? Is it useful? Does it give meat or milk?
Tip: What? Ugh. No, you just have pets. For fun, and companionship.
Oh: You has me for companion on the ship.
As you can see, part of the humor is in Oh’s Yoda-like speech as well as mutual misunderstandings. There also are the lowbrow conversations about body excrement: “No. 1,” “No. 2,” and a “No. 3,” the latter a violent day-long process peculiar to the Boov. Oh says that Tip would not want to be around during this once-a-year occurrence. Children enjoy this kind of humor, so accompanying adults will have to grin and bear it.
Oh has become not just ostracized by his fellow Boov, but branded a public enemy when he makes a potentially fatal mistake. Wanting to make friends, he had sent out an email invitation for his house-warming party. Unfortunately he presses the Send to All button, meaning that the Gorg also will receive it, thus learning of the whereabouts of the Boov. The enraged Captain Smek orders Oh to be hunted down and erased.
As Oh and Tip search for Lucy, Oh thinks he has at last found the friend he has been longing for all of his life, but bumps in the road arise that threaten their relationship. And there is also the hatred of Lucy and her fellow deportees for the Boov when our heroes do catch up with her. There is also the arrival of the Gorg in a huge space ship. What can one little Boov do against such a formidable enemy? I will leave further details on this and the revelation concerning the leader of the Gorg to the set of discussion questions that will appear in an upcoming Visual Parables Journal.
The film might not be quite at the level of Babe or The Iron Giant, but it goes far beyond mere entertainment. It offers families another strong heroine, this time a brown-skinned multiracial girl born in Barbados. She might have felt at times like an outsider in the US, but soon she will be regarded as part of the resolution of the human crisis.
The culture clash between the human and the Boov can be insightful for young viewers, and the final revelation about the enemy, perceived as being implacably evil, is very relevant in that even our children are exposed these days to those angry activists who rave against immigrants and men and women from minority faiths.
Creative parents/grandparents and church leaders could use this film to discuss with little ones the value of understanding those who are different, even hostile, as well as the nature of friendship across barriers set up by those fearful of strangers and of change. Also worth discussing is how, when Oh forgets himself while trying to protect others from the Gorg, he is able to overcome his inbred fear, even to the point of sacrificing himself.
One could even schedule a “Peacemaking for Children” series held either on Sunday mornings or at church family nights during the week. Judging by what I had read, I was not expecting much from this film, even putting off going to it—another example of needing to see a film oneself in order to form a mature opinion. (However, I still don’t intend to watch Fifty Shades of Gray.)
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the May 2015 issue of Visual Parables.