Even though it’s based on a novel, called The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, the animated feature Home (due out in theaters on March 27, 2015) creates a world that feels wholly original, beautifully inventive and fun. After checking out select scenes from the film, it’s also clearly a story of family and friendship that will tug at your heartstrings.
Collider was invited over to the DreamWorks Animation campus for a presentation from director Tim Johnson (Over the Hedge, Antz) that previewed a handful of scenes that gave a glimpse into the world that the film is creating, along with its rather unique inhabitants. Hit the jump to find out what we thought about the footage, what you should know about the film, and a Q&A with voice actors Rihanna, Jim Parsons and Steve Martin.
Home tells the story of what happens when Earth is taken over by the overly-confident Boov, an alien race in search of a new place to call home, and all humans are promptly relocated while the Boov get busy reorganizing the planet. But when a resourceful girl named Tip (voiced by music superstar Rihanna) manages to avoid capture, she happens to stumble across a banished Boov named Oh (voiced by The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons), and the two fugitives quickly realize that they may not be as different as they first thought, as they embark on the road trip of a lifetime.
I have to admit that I went into the presentation knowing nothing about the story, and came away from it absolutely wanting to see more. Even with the animation not fully finished (they still have five to six weeks of work to complete) it was very clear that this post-apocalyptic alien buddy movie has charm, laughs and tears, and aspects of the story for all ages, along with some great music. Here’s what the actors had to say about what attracted them to the project:
Question: What is it about Home that spoke to you and made you want to be a part of the project?
RIHANNA: I’d never done an animated film, but the story just spoke to me. It was so real and there were so many parallels in it. I felt like I identified with Tip. She’s essentially a role model. For me, it was strange to read a character that you can look up to. I was very excited. I had never done an animated film. I did Battleship before, but this was different. You learn so much when the camera is not there. Especially for me, being from Barbados, I have an accent. Learning to speak American, you just realize that there are 20 different types of American. There are all these different types of accents, and I didn’t know. I was learning all over again, and not just with the accent, but how to act with just my voice.
JIM PARSONS: I was approached about it, and I had never done one before either. Even before I knew what the story was, I was very excited about the idea, just ‘cause I wanted the chance to do an animated film. And then, once we talked about it, I just liked the little guy that I was playing, so much, even the way he looked. I held it up to a friend and said, “Could I voice this?,” and they said, “Oh, yes!” And then, once we got involved, it has really been the biggest reward. It’s the most interesting playtime I’ve ever had, as an actor. It’s really got this feeling of going down a mysterious but joyful black hole, where there’s nobody else there and directions are being thrown at you by Tim [Johnson]. Once you relax for 15 or 20 minutes, and really go, “I don’t care if I look like an ass,” it’s really fun to see what happens. You know that nothing is being visually judged, in that way, thank god. I never left without being a sweaty mess, ever.
STEVE MARTIN: I love the animated process. It’s like writing a play, where you can try it out, change it, and go back and experiment 70 different ways. When I saw the first animated sequence, I was really astounded. I thought it was beautiful. So much emotion can be brought in an animated film that’s very hard to get in a live-action film. I haven’t quite put my finger on why, but it might be because the characters can make facial expression that, if you made them in a movie, they’d call them corny. I find animated movies very touching. They reach an audience that’s hard to get with a live-action film. I’m just thrilled to be in a movie that is so affecting.
PARSONS: Through the process of working on it, you discovered what’s at the heart of it, more than I knew, going into it. The little guy that I play – O, the alien – really comes in with a set of ideas about how the world is supposed to be, and he thinks that’s all good and right. And he meets the character that Rihanna plays, Tip, and he really understands what it is to accept other people who have different ways of doing things and whose beliefs may be different than yours, but you can still be very, very close. That really resonates with me, in our own lives. I’ve thought a lot about being a gay person while making this movie, and it has nothing to do with that specifically, at all, but just being judge by something that people may not identify with or understand or have certain beliefs about, and then they get to know you and who you are. And that’s just the one that I personally identify with, obviously, in that regard. It could be a million things. It’s important to take people at a different level than that, and let them be who they are in their heart.
Rihanna, how did you find the experience of working with Tim Johnson?
RIHANNA: I was blessed with the opportunity to work with Tim Johnson. He is such an incredible director. I know a great director, only because I have no experience in this world. I can think of a line one way, and then he would just put a word in my head. He knows exactly how to get whatever emotion needs to be in that moment out of you. We had a lot of emotional moments in this film that I didn’t really expect because it’s an animated film and you think it will just be fun, but I so connected to the characters. There’s one specific point in the movie that really wrecks me, and I feel like it’s gonna kill everybody. When I was watching it for the first time, it was just stick figures. It didn’t even get to the point of all of the animation yet, but I was balling my eyes out and I was like, “Oh, my god, I’m so embarrassed right now! I’m crying at stick figures.” But by the time you get there, you feel every inch of each of our sides, with O and Tip. At first, you pick a side, but by the end, it’s so emotional.
RIHANNA: The music is such an important and crucial part to an animated film. You don’t think about it, but you can watch Tom and Jerry with no words, for hours, and the music dictates the emotion and where the story is going and how you’re supposed to feel. Everything is in the music. I worked really closely with Tim and Jeffrey Katzenberg on this because I could bring them songs, but if it didn’t move them or feel like it would make sense in a certain part, we couldn’t use it. It was very important.
What message do you want kids to walk away with, after watching this movie?
MARTIN: I think films are about having a good time, so I don’t know that there’s a message. There is a message in the film about friendship and how valuable it is, but I really wouldn’t want a kid to walk out and go, “Wow, friendship is valuable.” I’d rather they say, “Wasn’t in funny when?,” or “Gee, I cried when,” and let that message be in their heads, a week later or a year later. The message of a film is always what a critic writes, and the fun of a film or the emotion of a film is what the audience feels.
PARSONS: The core of it seems to be how important friendship is, and that you just never know where it’s going to be or who it’s going to be with. If you’re open to it, some real magic can come into your life, in that way. I spent a brief period of time, very early on, working in daycare, and we would play the same animated movies, again and again, but they always enjoyed them. I do think, with something like this, the hope would be that it’s simply entertaining, and whatever message there is hits at a more subliminal level. It should be fun enough to watch that you have time to absorb that message. One of my favorite things about working on this is that I’ve been so excited, from the beginning, to work on something so original. It is from source material, but not one that many people know of. There’s nothing wrong with recreating things, or doing Pt. 2 or 3 of things, and God willing that we could, but for now, one of the things that’s so exciting is that it is new characters and a completely new story. To me, the animation looks brand new. When we saw some of the more finished scenes, it looked like they had invented something. I have never seen animation quite like this. I don’t know if that’s true, but I didn’t feel like I had.
RIHANNA: Personally, when I watched the film, I felt like the message became clearer and clearer, as it went on. You see these two individuals from completely different worlds – O and Tip, human and alien, female and whatever they would call it – and they have this completely idea about who each other are, based off of the worlds they’ve come from and the different environments they grew up in. And by the end of it, you slowly start to see all these similarities being revealed and being acknowledged between the two of them. That’s really the basis of their friendship, as they start to know more about each other. We have this thing, as humans, where we judge each other without even knowing or having a conversation, really. By the end of it, you see they’re so similar that, when you think back to the beginning of the movie, when they first met each other, it’s 180 degree change.
PARSONS: They learn that they can help each other.
RIHANNA: Absolutely, and that’s really what got me to even agree to do this. I felt like I really identified with her, the way she thought, her flaws, her ambition, her sass, her attitude. I could see them take my facial expressions and put them on her. I was like, “Oh, god, they saw me do that!” But, it’s really cool to see all of that. When you watch it back, it’s very strange.
Steve, were you able to relate to Captain Smek?
MARTIN: I love these characters that are dumb villains. I played one before, in Little Shop of Horrors. The Dentist was a dumb villain. They always resonate for me, and for the audience, somehow. I searched and found this character and roamed around all over with him, and the thing that kept coming up was dumb villain. I really enjoyed playing that. It’s actually quite suited to me.
RIHANNA: He owned it.
MARTIN: She identified with the charming, smart, young woman, and I identified with the dumb villain.
In the film, instead of Christmas, you celebrate Smekday. What is Smekday?
PARSONS: Smek Day is essentially what we call any celebration day. Smek is our leader, so anything would be named after him. Every day is Smek Day.
What is home, for each of you?
MARTIN: Home to me is when someone comes up to me and says, “Can I get a selfie?” No. It’s where your wife and your family are. It’s the emotional place where you feel like you’re not away from it.
RIHANNA: For me, it’s wherever I feel safe and safest, really. Anything that feels familiar and comfortable [is home]. Most of the time, that’s just Barbados. It’s warm, it’s beautiful, it’s the beach, it’s my family, it’s the food, it’s the music. Everything feels familiar, feels right and feels safe. So, Barbados is home for me.
PARSONS: It’s where you feel unjudged, and where what I do isn’t necessarily stupid or wrong.
MARTIN: I love Barbados, too.
Home opens in theaters on March 27, 2015.