Pixar’s underrated The Good Dinosaur (which took VFX prizes at the VES and Annies) was released on Blu-ray last week from Disney with a treasure trove of informative bonus features about the studio’s first prehistoric buddy comedy/adventure.
First-time director Peter Sohn did an admirable job of streamlining The Good Dinosaur and balancing the cartoony characters with the near-photoreal environments inspired by Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
“We had a complicated version of this story, where it was plot heavy and all these kinds of turns, but when it came down to just focusing on that relationship, everyone was excited,” Sohn recalled. “‘There’s nowhere to hide,’ is what John [Lasseter] would say. Because the story is so simple and the mechanics are so pure, you might fall on your face or fine something that’s worth it in there.
“One of the first things was I made Arlo [the Apatosaurus] a younger character. And then when I was that age (around 11 or 12), what was I like? Sweat pants, turtle-neck kid; didn’t know anything about fashion or style, the culture of the world. I was very sheltered.”
The Good Dinosaur represents cinematographer Sharon Calahan’s most naturalistic and nuanced work, and it was her familiarity with the Jackson Hole landscape that drove the look, which she calls “painterly reality.” Inspired by Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf, it’s a story about loss, isolation, survival, altruism and friendship.
“It wasn’t enough to just use colored light: I wanted to use a bold color and use it almost monochromatically to create that underwater feeling,” Calahan explained. “The water was almost tinted and to have it be this complete immersion into that strong color. And it was based on memories of what that deep, teal, cold mountain water is. “
Animating dinos was new to Pixar on The Good Dinosaur, with particular emphasis on Arlo, the young Apatosaurus protagonist, as well as the special brand of T-Rexes. Locomotion and efficiency were key, and the animators took their cues from studying elephants. However, for the T-Rexes, Sohn wanted them to look like cowboys on horseback.
Bonus features include:
- The Oscar-nominated short, Sanjay’s Super Team, from Sanjay Patel about learning to embrace his Hindu traditions.
- “True Lies About Dinosaurs” about separating fact from fiction.
- “Recyclosaurus” about Pixar’s competition to create the best dino ever using only discarded items from the studio’s “free table.”
- “The Filmmakers’ Journey” to make The Good Dinosaur.
- “Every Part of the Dinosaur” about animating a dinosaur who’s really a boy and a boy who acts like a dog.
- “Following the T-Rex Trail” about the real-life inspiration from the McKay family of cattle ranchers.
- Deleted scenes that help flesh out story points about “The Attack,” “Building the Silo,” and “Waiting for Poppa.”