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2015 is the rare year with not one but two Pixar films: this weekend’s Inside Out, and this fall’s still-mysterious The Good Dinosaur.

Most of what we’ve heard about the latter so far has had to do with its offscreen woes. The Good Dinosaur was originally scheduled for release in 2014, but was yanked off the calendar for extensive retooling. Now that it’s on track for a fall 2015 release, Pixar and director Peter Sohn are eager to show off some of the goods.

In an hourlong presentation this morning, Sohn offered a first look at some charming new footage from the film. In addition, he offered new details about the story and making of The Good Dinosaur, including his inspirations for the movie. (Yes, Jurassic Park came up.) Find out everything we learned after the jump. 

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The Story

Set in a world where dinosaurs never went extinct, The Good Dinosaur follows Arlo, a young apatosaurus belonging to a family of agrarian farmers. Timid Arlo is close to his family, but tragedy strikes one day and his father dies. Shortly after, Arlo falls into a rushing river. When he comes to, he discovers the water has carried him hundreds of miles from home.

Arlo is unused to being alone, and doesn’t know how to forage for food or build shelter. Then he encounters Spot, a creature unlike any Arlo has seen before. Specifically: Spot is a human boy. Arlo is initially wary of this strange animal, but they eventually form a bond as they set out to get Arlo back home.

In short, The Good Dinosaur is the story of a boy and his dog, with a dinosaur in the role of the boy and a boy in the role of the dog. According to Sohn, major themes include “self-discipline, facing fears, and love.”

Good Dinosaur Details

The Characters

Arlo: Voiced by Raymond Ochoa, Arlo is an apatosaurus around 11 years old. He’s fun and goofy and loves his family — but was born “afraid of the world.” Over the course of the film he becomes less scared and more brave.

Spot: Voiced by Jack Bright, Spot has already spent a long time surviving alone in the wild when he meets Arlo. He’s a human boy around 6 or 7, but comes across more like a dog. He walks on all fours and speaks no language.

Poppa (Henry): Poppa looks more realistic and less cartoonish than Arlo, and is “built like a tank.” Sohn talked about voice actor Jeffrey Wright bringing a “bear hug” quality to his voice.

Momma (Ida): Hardworking Momma keeps the farm running. Voiced by Frances McDormand.

Buck: Arlo’s older brother. Voiced by Marcus Scribner.

Libby: Arlo’s older sister.

Thunderclap: A pterodactyl voiced by Steve Zahn. Pterodactyls are threats in this world, kind of like vultures are in ours, and they’re designed to look creepy and mean.

Butch: A tough T-Rex voiced by Sam Elliott, whom Sohn says has “the perfect voice for a T-Rex.”

Ramsey: Butch’s daughter, described by Sohn as a “firecracker.” Voiced by Anna Paquin.

Nash: Buch’s son. Voiced by AJ Buckley with a charming drawl.

Other characters include a tribe of velociraptors, whose feather “mullets” give them a bit of a “country” look. And there’s a large dinosaur — maybe a tatankaceratops, or something similar. He lives apart from other dinosaurs and surrounded by critters of all types, which look a little different from the creatures we have today.

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Setting and Tone

The look of The Good Dinosaur sets up an intentional contrast. On one hand there are the characters, who look like the CG cartoons they are. Arlo has the wide eyes and smooth surfaces typical of a Pixar character, rather than the narrow eyes and bumpy skin we see in more “realistic” dino depictions like Jurassic Park.

On the other hand, the nature setting looks photorealistic, to the point that Sohn had to tell us certain close-ups and wide shots we saw were not live-action footage but CG animation. The scenery was inspired by Wyoming, particularly the Teton mountains.

Sohn spoke about wanting to get across a “meditative, immersive, intimate” feel that would convey both the “beauty and the threat of nature.” Since The Good Dinosaur is in part a survival story, the setting had too look sufficiently intimidating. He additionally pointed out that the differences cement Arlo’s status as an outsider in this world.

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Keep reading to find out Sohn’s cinematic inspirations for The Good Dinosaur, as well as to get a recap of the footage we saw. (Spoiler alert: I almost broke out the tissues.)

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