Happy Smekday! From DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox comes a feature-length film adaptation of Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday (Disney-Hyperion, 2007), directed by Tim Johnson. The animated 3D movie, entitled Home, arrives in theaters on March 27 and features the voices of Rihanna as Gratuity “Tip” Tucci, Jim Parsons as the alien Oh, and Steve Martin as Captain Smek.

Rex’s 2009 sci-fi comedy for middle-grade readers (which Bloomsbury has now stickered with promos for the film) takes place on a future Earth, after aliens called the Boov have conquered the planet; the story is written in the form of a school essay by the book’s protagonist, Tip. She describes the cross-country trek she takes with Oh, a Boov who is on the run from the rest of his species. This year, Rex published a sequel, Smek for President.

While Rex’s story is, in its way, a post-apocalyptic book, as it takes place in the aftermath of an alien-invasion, the adaptation represents an obvious, er... diversion, from recent page-to-screen projects. The book is comedic, does not have a romance at its core, and is middle-grade. As such, it will likely draw a different, younger audience than that of the Hunger Games and Divergent franchises. Another characteristic setting the film apart from its YA counterparts: it features an African-American protagonist and is the first DreamWorks production to do so. In fact, according to online media sources, it’s the first time that a Hollywood studio has released a 3D animated feature-length film with a black main character.

Adam Rex spoke with PW about the experience of having his novel adapted for screen. He was not directly involved with the creation of the film, but DreamWorks did actively seek out his input: “It was pretty charming the way the creative team at DreamWorks seemed to care so much what I thought,” Rex said. “They had me out several times to see in-progress screenings, and they wanted my opinions and notes.”

Like many authors whose books are made into films, Rex had some initial hesitations, “but they were far outweighed by the excitement of having something like this happen to my book,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that books and films need to each be their own thing, and that a movie that shows too much fidelity to its book can end up a little stilted and lifeless.” Though the film alters the plot somewhat, Rex is gratified to see that “the basic story and themes are still there.”

For Rex, excitement is building as the release date approaches. “I’m still pretty overwhelmed,” Rex said. He reflected on a scene from a book that heavily influenced The True Meaning of Smekday, Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s the scene where Adams’s protagonist Arthur Dent grapples with the idea that the Earth has exploded, realizing that “there’s no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger. I think I’ll finally understand what’s happening to me when I hold a Home Happy Meal toy in my hand.”

Rex said that he’s been hearing a lot from readers who are eagerly anticipating the movie. He’s received tweets from fans posing in front of the posters and standees, and seen pictures of “Boov-shaped chicken nuggets”. In addition to kids with Boov on the brain, he’s been hearing a lot from another demographic: the Rihanna Navy (her fanbase), “who have been under the impression that I’m now a source for Rihanna news,” he said.

Speaking of Rihanna, the singer will be in the town of Plano, Texas, for the red-carpet premiere of Home. Why Plano? DreamWorks and Good Morning America teamed up for an essay contest that asked participants to write about how they have helped their communities for the opportunity to have the film premiere in their town. Plano resident Cheryle Jackson, who wrote about starting her own charity, Minnie’s Food Pantry, was selected as the contest winner. The premiere is March 17 at the Cinemark West Theatre. DreamWorks also donated food to the pantry to feed 25,000 people.