Fred Patten reviews Ramin Zahed’s new coffee-table book detailing the art of DreamWorks Animation’s surprise hit film.
DreamWorks Animation’s Home (released March 27, 2015, after being postponed from November 26, 2014) was widely expected to be another of DreamWorks’ recent box-office duds, so its surprise success must be a pleasant relief. And one that makes this coffee-table art book even more of a must-have for animation scholars than usual.
The movie is based upon the popular children’s book The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (Hyperion Books, October 2007). In that, the alien cowardly Boov, led by Captain Smek and fleeing from the fierce Gorg, conquer the Earth to make it their new home. They relocate all humanity to Florida; then, when they decide that they want Florida for themselves, they dump the humans into Arizona. The main protagonists are Tip, an independent 11-year-old non-Caucasian girl who has escaped the Boovs’ forced relocation, and J.Lo, a friendly Boov. They (and Tip’s fat cat, Pig) go on an Odd Couple road trip across America to find Lucy, Tip’s mother who was taken from her by the Boov. In the process, they reconcile the humans, the Boov, and the Gorg.
The children’s novel received good reviews from critics for making the main protagonist a racial-minority girl with a strong personality; resolving the plot through friendship rather than violence; and the gentle satire of culturally superior immigrants pushing the “backward” natives around. DreamWorks ran with that. The main changes that DreamWorks made, besides renaming the movie Home, were to change J.Lo to Oh, and to move much of the setting to Australia for the humans, and Paris as the Boovian capital.
The Art of Home is divided into three main sections: The Boov (pages 24 to 61), The Humans and their World (pages 62 to 131), and The Gorg (pages 132 to 153). Mini-chapters of two to four pages cover DreamWorks’ pre-release Almost Home short, and “Melodies from Earth” (Oh’s involuntary dancing in Tip’s car). There are a Preface by Tim Johnson, Home’s director; a Foreword by Jim Parsons, Oh’s voice actor, and an Afterword by Adam Rex, author of the original novel.
Rex says that when he first visited DreamWorks during production, his initial reaction was, “That’s not really a Boov.” But the movie’s design is very similar to that of the Boov in Rex’s novel, illustrated by himself. The main differences are that the movie Boov squash and stretch more, and they color-shift to show their emotions, which they could not do in the novel. A Boov is normally purple, but he or she become yellow to show fear, blue when sad, green when lying, and orange to bright scarlet to express anger. There are many pages showing the Boov, individual Boov like Oh, Captain Smek, and Kyle the Boov police officer, their personal spaceships, the Boov mothership, and general Boovian graphics.
The main focus of “The Humans and their World” is on Gratuity “Tip” Tucci. The designers were careful to make her stand out from the usual little-girls of animated movies. Tip is 11 years old; not quite an adolescent but not a child. It was important to keep her young, but make her old enough to drive a car when she is the only human left in her city. To make her clearly non-Caucasian but not identifiable with a specific race, the designers imagined that she had a Caribbean father and a Puerto Rican mother. Her African-American heritage is obvious but not overpowering. Other characters shown are Lucy, Tip’s mother; Pig, her chubby calico cat; Tip’s “Slushious” car after Oh “repairs” it to fly; Tip’s “Midwestern” city that looks more East Coast-like; Paris, with a flying Eiffel Tower; and China, where the Gorg chase Tip and Oh. When the Boov colonize Earth and relocate the humans to Australia, they try to placate them by building a “Happy Humanstown” home for them; a patronizing mixture of a real city and a futuristic amusement park.
None of the Gorg stand out in the movie, and their section in The Art of Home is correspondingly brief. They and their giant spaceship are based on angles and sharp-edged squares. They might be roughly compared to angry-looking starfish.
As usual with these art books, each piece of art is identified by the artist who drew it: Kathy Altieri, Andrew Erekson, Bill Kaufmann, Michael Lester, Ron Lukas, Aimee Marsh, Earl Mitev, Takao Noguchi, Griselda Sastrawinata, Jason Scheier, Stan Seo, Jeff Snow, Le Tang, Paul Westacott, Todd Wilderman, and many more. There are also many emphasized quotes: “‘Oh is a character who literally can’t help but show his true colors. It’s not only a theme of the movie but a concept inherent in the design.’ —Mireille Soria, producer” (p. 27). “‘According to Adam Rex, Boov evolved from aquatic creatures, thus we suspect he [Oh] smells slightly of fish – and for Pig, that only adds to the attraction.’’ -–Kathy Altieri, production designer” (p. 77). “‘The Gorg’s world is all about sharp lines and straight edges. This sets up a basic but strong visual contrast to the Boov’s rough bubble shapes.’ -–Emil Mitev, art director” (p. 134).
If you liked the look of Home, here it is in detail in The Art of Home.
Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio (1945). He co-founded the first American fan club for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-Con International's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to American fandom. He began writing about anime for Animation World Magazine since its #5, August 1996. A major stroke in 2005 sidelined him for several years, but now he is back. He can be reached at email@example.com (link sends e-mail) (link sends e-mail).