About seven years ago, director Tim Johnson was looking for a good book to read his two sons, aged 5 and 7 at the time. After a recommendation from The New York Times, he stumbled upon Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday and couldn’t put it down—literally. “The first night I read them two chapters, but I think I ended up reading the whole thing alone in one night,” Johnson tells EW. Now Johnson has compiled an all-star voice cast, including Jim Parsons, Rihanna and Steve Martin to adapt the quirky book into Home, what he calls a “postapocalyptic alien invasion buddy comedy road trip animated movie.”
Animation technology has grown “leaps and bounds” since Johnson directed the cartoon hit Antz back in 1998, and he wanted to show that change. Home is only the second film to be made with the help of an advance animation system created by Dreamworks after How to Train Your Dragon 2. “I feel like I’m working with actors and not technically animation,” Johnson says. “I can talk about intention, motivation and emotion, and the amazing animators are able to do the rest.” An alien species called the Boov with the power to turn off the world’s gravity arrive on Earth and force all humans to evacuate. The story follows a human girl (Rihanna) teaming up with one of the purple aliens, named Oh (Parsons), to try and stop them. That’s right: The world is about to end, and Jim Parsons and Rihanna are our only hope. “Never a stranger combo has the world depended on for survival,” Johnson jokes.
Besides the title, other changes had to be made to adapt the futuristic and colorful tale. For example: The alien protagonist’s adopted name is J. Lo in the book. But since Jennifer Lopez herself voices Rihanna’s character’s mother in the film, the filmmakers decided to switch things up. “We thought for marketing purposes it might get a little confusing,” Johnson says, adding that the new name Oh makes a little more sense for the character.
“The sci-fi genre can be very narrow and self-imitating and can get stuck in a rut,” Johnson continues. “I wanted to design an alien technology that was really unexpected.” His first rule: absolutely no lasers. So Home’s extraterrestrials not only have the ability to completely turn off the Earth’s gravity—but their weapon of choice also launches bubbles instead of beams. A true sci-fi fan and self-described geek, Johnson hopes that these modern, funny touches can get whole families to see the film together when it opens in March.