Like its main protagonists Arlo and Spot, Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur" has had quite a journey to the big screen.
The embattled Pixar film first hit a snag during the early days of production when its original director, Bob Peterson, was replaced by Peter Sohn, an animator who is a favorite among his Pixar peers, even serving as the inspiration for Asian boy scout Russell in "Up." Then, the film was pushed from 2014 to 2015. And just last week, "The Good Dinosaur" scrapped its original voice cast in favor of more youthful leads. It hasn't been the easiest journey for Sohn and his team, but with a new focus and a renewed spirit, "The Good Dinosaur" is back on track -- and it looks incredible.
MTV News joined a small group of journalists on Wednesday (June 17) in New York City to screen some never-before-seen footage from "The Good Dinosaur." Sohn walked us through his Pixar journey -- he's been at the animation studio for 15 years -- and gave us a glimpse into the film's beautiful, yet dangerous world, its characters and the fascinating story that takes young Arlo away from his family farm and into the vast unknown.
All Pixar films start with a question. What if your toys came alive when you weren't looking? What if the monsters hiding in your closet were actually real? "The Good Dinosaur" is no different than its predecessors. The film asks, what if dinosaurs never became extinct? How would they evolve, and most importantly, how would they interact with humans? Thus begins Arlo's adventure.
"The Good Dinosaur" follows a young dinosaur named Arlo. In this world, the asteroid that crashed into Earth 65 million years ago missed the planet, so dinosaurs have evolved in unique ways. Arlo, who's about "11 years old in dino years," comes from a farming family in the Claw Tooth Mountains. Unlike his siblings, young Arlo was born afraid of the world. Only his dad can understand Arlo's issues with fear, and there's a particularly moving moment between father, son and pre-historic fireflies that will have even the hardest of bros tearing up.
However, after a tragic event turns Arlo's world upside down, he's separated from his family (prepare to cry, guys). Hundreds of miles away from home, Arlo meets Spot, a young human boy who is more animal than person -- and he's completely wild and carefree. Spot doesn't really speak, so communication is sparse. But Arlo and Spot find ways to say things without actually saying them. "There's not a lot of dialogue," said Sohn. "It's a visually driven film."
Visually speaking, "The Good Dinosaur" is breathtaking. It might be the closest thing to a Hayao Miyazaki film Pixar has ever made. There's so much nuance and detail in every single frame.
One of Sohn's biggest goals was to create a "world that would make even dinosaurs look tiny." The landscape is beautifully animated. It's clear Sohn and his team wanted to create something photorealistic. We saw one small frame of water hitting leaves, and it looked real. The depth of color and the scope of the landscape is staggering. It makes sense that Arlo would be afraid of it.
That being said, Arlo, Spot and the rest of the dinos, in particular, are very cartoonish. It's an interesting dichotomy that, surely, not everyone will love. But ultimately, this is a Pixar movie, and we think kids will fall in love with Arlo -- with his knobby knees, goofy smile and freckles, it will be hard not to.
That's where the heart of the film truly lie: its emotion. Sohn's parents immigrated from South Korea to New York in the '70s. Growing up with a mother who didn't speak English, Sohn, whose Korean was admittedly terrible, found that some emotions were universal, regardless of language.
Sohn recalled a childhood screening of Disney's "Dumbo," in which the scene between Dumbo and his mother (when she extends her trunk to embrace him from behind bars) made his own mother cry. She may not have understood English, but she did understand the emotion in that scene. "I didn’t have to explain anything to her," he said. "It was told visually so well."
That same sense of visual story telling through emotion inspired a particularly gripping scene in "The Good Dinosaur." Arlo and Spot bond over the discovery that both have experienced lost. Unable to understand each other's words, they use broken sticks to communicate their feelings. In the end, they both howl mournfully at the sky. Very few words are spoken and yet the underlying sadness is there.
It's scenes like that one that will make "The Good Dinosaur" stand tall, like a brave Apatosaurus, among the Pixar greats -- "Toy Story," "Up," "Monsters, Inc." and most recently, "Inside Out." "It's about self discovery, facing your fears and ultimately, love," said Sohn.
This being Sohn's first feature-length film, all eyes will certainly be on "The Good Dinosaur" come November 25. Despite its early problems, we think the film has what it takes to delight Pixar novices and film nerds, alike. With his Claw Tooth Mountains approaching on the horizon, we think Sohn, with his passion for story telling, has exactly what it takes to pull it off.