Pop superstar Rihanna made a big splash in Battleship, and now she is getting all sorts of animated for the latest from DreamWorks Animation, Home. We headed to the studio’s campus (where they've made everything from Shrek to Kung Fu Panda) in Glendale, California and were treated to almost 20 minutes of footage from the film and a chance to chat with the film’s stars, including Ri-Ri!
More on our chats with Jim Parsons and Steve Martin later in the week -- but, first we wanted to know what it was about Home that compelled Rihanna to take time out of her busy music career to record her voice for an animated film. It turns out, Rihanna deeply identified with her character Tip.
“That’s what even got me to agree to do this. I felt like I identified with her, like the way she thought, a lot of her flaws, a lot of her ambitions -- there’s so much about her -- her sass, her attitude,” Rihanna said. The Grammy winner was amazed at what animators captured from her studio sessions. “You can see them take my facial expressions and put it on her. It’s like, ‘Oh God, they saw me do that!’ When you watch it back it’s very strange!”
The story also spoke to her and she found so many parallels in her own life. “[Tip’s] essentially like a role model and for me it was very strange to read a character that you can look up to. I was very excited. I’ve never done animated film. I did Battleship before, but this was different,” Rihanna said.
Home also allowed her to work on her American accent… but which one?!
“Being from Barbados, I have an accent. So, learning to speak American and just learning there are like 20 different types of American [dialects]. All these different accents I didn’t know,” she said and laughed. “I was learning all over again. Not just the accent, but how to act just with my words.”
As the Home trailer teases, the film is about what happens when an alien civilization, the Boov, come to earth to take it over. Upon their arrival, they send every human to a “collection” site, otherwise known as Australia. Rihanna’s Tip is left behind and is the only human left for thousands of miles.
She then meets Jim Parson’s alien, who himself is on the run from his fellow aliens for a little error he made that may have threatened their entire existence. The two must work together, and over the course of the film, they become unlikely allies. It was that theme that spoke to the singer. Well, that and the chance to get made up like a cartoon character.
A veteran of hundreds of recording sessions as a platinum recording artist, Rihanna admitted that doing voice-over work for an animated movie was quite the different animal.
“Even though there is a mic, the mic became the camera in a way. We had a lot of emotional moments in this film that I didn’t really expect because it’s an animated film. It’s so real and you connect to the characters,” she said.
She was also impressed with the evolution of an animated film and how it becomes truly art. And even in its most primal of forms, the Home story really “wrecked her” emotionally.
“When I was watching it for the first time it was just stick figures. It didn’t even get to the point on animation all the way yet. So I was balling my eyes out in this meeting and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so embarrassed right now! I’m crying at literally stick figures.' But it’s really emotional and that’s the thing I enjoyed the most.”
You don’t put Rihanna in an animated movie and not have her record a song or two! But, the singer was keenly aware of what the song had to sound like and, more importantly, say.
“The music is such an important and crucial part to an animated film. You don’t think about it, but you could watch Tom & Jerry and there’s no words. You can watch that for hours, but music dictates the emotion and it dictates where the story is going or how you’re supposed to feel the suspense. Everything is in the music,” Rihanna said.
“I worked really closely with Tim [Johnson, director] and Jeffery Katzenberg. I could bring them songs, but if it didn’t move them or if they didn’t feel like it made sense in a certain part we couldn’t use it. It was very important.”
So, what is Home to an international icon like Rihanna? “Anything that feels familiar or comfortable. 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,” she admitted. “Everything feels familiar. It feels right. It feels safe. And so Barbados is home for me.”
And when it comes to the messages she wants kids to take away from Home, Rihanna hopes it is the same themes that resonated for her in the first place.
“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. They have this completely different idea about who each other is based off the worlds they come from and different environments they grew up in,” Rihanna said.
“By the end of it, slowly and slowly you start to see all of these similarities being revealed and that’s really the basis of their friendship when they start to know more about each other. It’s this thing we have as humans where we judge each other without even knowing it or having a conversation really. By the end of it you see they’re so similar, and when you think back to the beginning of the movie it really is like a 180-degree change.”
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