'The Good Dinosaur' Preview: How John Ford And Hayao Miyazaki Helped Inspire Pixar

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. 

The Good Dinosaur 1

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.


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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Inspirations and Influences

In a Q&A following the presentation, Sohn spoke a bit about some of the other films that have influenced The Good Dinosaur. The key word there being some. "I could name you a thousand movies, literally, because five years is a lot of time to watch movies," he said.

But within the limited timeframe, he told us he'd looked at "boy and his dog" movies and "old frontier" films. Specific titles cited were Carroll Ballard's The Black Stallion, Steven Spielberg's E.T., and the classic Disney tearjerker Old Yeller — plus the films of Hayao Miyazaki for "their taste of tone and breadth."

Elsewhere in the presentation, he named the works of David Lean and John Ford as inspirations for some of the wide-open natural settings, which depict "a world that can make even a dinosaur feel small."

Meanwhile, when it came time to craft the dinosaurs, they supplemented their research of real-life dinos with creative inspiration from filmmaker and special effects icon Ray Harryhausen and, of course, Jurassic Park.

And while they aren't a direct influence on The Good Dinosaur, Sohn spoke of being inspired as a child by Disney animated films like Dumbo. Thanks to their strong visual and emotional components, they were among the few English-language film his Korean-speaking mother could properly comprehend.

Presumably she'll have no trouble with The Good Dinosaur, either, because Sohn told us the film doesn't have a lot of dialogue. He pushed instead for a "visually driven" approach.

The Good Dinosaur

Footage Recap

Along with the asteroid bit shown in the trailer, Sohn shared two new clips with us.

Clip #1: Arlo in the river

This is the pivotal moment that sets Arlo on his journey. He falls into a rapidly flowing river and begins to panic, screaming for his mother as he keeps bobbing in and out of the water. Eventually, he hits his head on a rock.

Clip #2: Arlo and Spot bond

The longer clip has Arlo and Spot getting ready to settle down for the evening. They have some fun chasing fireflies, but it's a bittersweet moment for Arlo because it reminds him of chasing fireflies with his late dad.

He tries to talk to Spot about his feelings of missing his family. At first Spot doesn't understand, but Arlo erects a little stick family in the sand to represent his own family and Spot does the same.

Through these visual aids, Spot reveals that his parents have died, just as Arlo's dad has died. The pair bond wordlessly over losing their parents, and Spot comes over to snuggle with Arlo.

It's a short scene, less than 5 minutes, but it looked like Pixar doing what it does best: hitting me right in the feels. I'll admit to tearing up a bit here. If the rest of the movie is half as sweet and moving as this scene we can count The Good Dinosaur as another win for Pixar.

The Good Dinosaur opens November 25.