DreamWorks looking to hit Home run with sci-fi film

DreamWorks looking to hit Home run with sci-fi film

DreamWorks Animation had a massive hit in China with their Kung Fu Panda series, and now they are hoping to recreate that success with their new film, Home. Xu Fan reports.

Aliens are invading Earth! Sound scary? Don't worry. In the upcoming animated comedy Home, the non-human characters are cute, colorful creatures driving bubbly cars.

After topping the North American box office, hitting US$54 million (S$65 milion) in the last weekend of March, before being bumped from top spot by Fast and Furious 7, the latest production from DreamWorks Animation is expected to match the popularity of the Kung Fu Panda series, one of the highest-grossing animated titles in the history of Chinese cinema.

With a Chinese version dubbed by singer and actress Li Yuchun (voicing the teenager Tip) and veteran actor Tong Dawei (voicing the alien Oh), the buddy sci-fi film will hit Chinese mainland theatres on Friday.

"China has been a fantastic market ... consistently producing block-busters. We hope Home can become a blockbuster here," says DreamWorks' CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

The powerful man behind animated hits Shrek and Madagascar, is rather low-profile in appearance, especially considering his reported $6.4-million salary in 2014 and DreamWorks' industry status as one of the largest independent animated film studios in Hollywood.

Katzenberg says Home is about the adventures of a young girl and a fugitive alien who are looking for the teenager's mother who has been taken away. He says the theme of the film is "reunited".

"That is the big theme because it (focuses on) a daughter searching to be reunited with her mom," he explains. "Tip becomes independent and resourceful during the journey. You don't see those kind of characters often in animated movies, most of which usually feature princesses and true love stories."

Katzenberg says DreamWorks chose to adapt the 2007 children's book, The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, into a movie because it is "unique and special".

"Most alien productions are very serious. Home is sweet and heart-warming, which makes it different from all the other alien-themed films we've ever seen," he says.

Actually, DreamWorks decided very quickly to adapt the book.

Tim Johnson, the film's American director, first brought the story to the attention of DreamWorks."I bought the book to read to my boys, who were 5 and 7 years old at that time. At first, I wasn't thinking about it. But in a couple of hours, I started to realise it could be a pretty good animated movie," recalls Johnson, who says that years of working with DreamWorks has pushed him to always look for ideas.

The veteran animated filmmaker, famous for Antz (1998) and Over the Hedge (2006), was so excited by his discovery he sent an e-mail to Katzenberg at 2 am, telling him he had found an "amazing book".

"It was a weekend. And by Monday, we already had the (adaptation) rights of the book," he says, laughing.

However, the director says he faced many "obstacles" when attempting to turn the book into a movie, including casting the voice actors, writing the script and transforming the visual images.

When Jim Parsons, popular in China for playing the character Sheldon in the hit series The Big Bang Theory, and Barbadian singer Rihanna agreed to dub Home, the director described it as "getting the green lights".

"I was so surprised to hear that Jimmy is so popular in China. He is quite different from both Oh and Sheldon, who doesn't understand people and pushes them away. Oh crazily loves friends and really wants to have a family," says Johnson.

"But Jimmy is quite relaxed and personable, and he even moves quite differently (from Sheldon)."

When asked to judge the Chinese voice actors' performance, Johnson says he searched for their previous work and was excited to find both of them have "musical and exceptional voices".

Johnson says Home is dubbed in 40 languages and has 52 versions, as some countries share the same language but cast different voice actors.

Li shot to fame in the Chinese reality show Super Girl, but has been criticised by Chinese media for her "aggressive" voice, far removed from Rihanna's "soft" style. Johnson, however, gives her his warm support.

"When an animated movie travels to another country such as China, it doesn't need someone to imitate the English version, but someone to make the characters in their interpretation... It can be their job to tell the story in their unique way," he says.

"The movie is about making a judgment about somebody and then finding the judgment was done too quickly," says the director.

In the movie the aliens "Boov" find their biggest enemy "the Gorg" are not actually evil. Perhaps Chinese audiences will find the local actors are not so bad after all.

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