Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Bizarre History Of The Good Dinosaur, Pixar's Biggest Dud

Dating back to the days of Gertie the Dinosaur, dinosaurs and animation have been inseparable in film history. The limitless possibilities of animation mean that it's the perfect medium to bring to life these prehistoric beasties that have always captured people's imagination. The history of dinosaurs in animation stretches through projects ranging from "Fantasia" to "We're Back! A Dinosaur Story" to "The Land Before Time" among many others. Given the ubiquity of these critters in the world of animation, it was only a matter of time before Pixar tried its hand at a story involving these creatures. Pixar's foray into this field emerged in 2015 with "The Good Dinosaur," which told the story of Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an adolescent dinosaur scared of everything, having to make a treacherous trek back to his home accompanied by a feral human boy named Spot.

This twist on the classic boy and his dog narrative had the usual staples of Pixar features (comedy, tearjerker moments, beautiful animation), but so much else about this motion picture was totally distinctive, even when compared exclusively to its Pixar brethren. This idiosyncratic nature is reflected in this chronicle of the movie's history, which covers everything from the film's troubled production to how its score was produced to director Peter Sohn's personal connection to the title. The untold truth of "The Good Dinosaur" will make anyone further appreciate an especially noteworthy entry in the sizeable pantheon of animated dinosaur cinema.

The initial announcement of The Good Dinosaur

At the 2011 edition of the D23 convention, attendees of a panel that focused on upcoming Disney movies were treated to the reveal of two upcoming movies from Pixar. One of those features was a title hailing from director Bob Peterson that would explore a world where the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs never made contact with Earth. This was the first time the general public was getting a glimpse into the movie that would become "The Good Dinosaur."

At the time, though, the movie didn't have an official name and was merely referred to as "The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs." A concept image for the project was also shown while the few words about what this motion picture would be like emphasized its comedy above all else. There wasn't much to go on here with this announcement, but the immediately intriguing central concept ensured that people would be keeping a close eye on "The Good Dinosaur" even before it had its title.

The inspiration behind The Good Dinosaur

Pixar movies don't just emerge from the ground fully formed. Like all motion pictures, they begin with a germ of inspiration and snowball from there into something much larger and more detailed. For "The Good Dinosaur," its origins begin with its initial director, Bob Peterson. As a kid, Peterson went to the World's Fair, where he was captivated by a collection of animatronic dinosaurs. Seeing these once-extinct organisms towering over him instilled a love for these creatures that made him think of the storytelling possibilities of these prehistoric giants.

In a later interview with Collider, eventual "Good Dinosaur" director Peter Sohn revealed what inspired him to get passionate about "The Good Dinosaur." He didn't have any childhood World's Fair memories to turn to, but he did note that he deeply related to Arlo as an outcast adolescent. He wanted to use "The Good Dinosaur" to communicate what it was like to be an awkward youngster who's trying to navigate both themselves and the larger frightening world around them. Peterson and Sohn's core personal inspirations for "The Good Dinosaur" were drastically different, but they brought something deeply distinct and poignant in their grounding of this prehistoric yarn.

The Good Dinosaur's confident initial release date

While "The Good Dinosaur" was at first slated to be a big Thanksgiving blockbuster, Disney would announce at the start of 2012 that audiences would need to wait a little while longer for this feature. This was when "The Good Dinosaur" was delayed to the summer of 2014, though this new date was by no means a reason to be sad. This season has proven to be a lucrative one for Pixar thanks to global box office phenomena like "Toy Story 3" and "Cars" getting launched in this corridor. Making "The Good Dinosaur" a summertime motion picture put it in line to be the latest in a long string of Pixar hits.

Even better, "The Good Dinosaur" was scheduled to debut on May 30, 2014. This specific date was important since most Pixar summertime titles have opted for mid-June launches. Rare exceptions to this rule are "Finding Nemo" and "Up," both of which also launched over the last weekend of May. Considering that both of these movies still reign as some of the biggest original Pixar films in history, pushing "The Good Dinosaur" indicated oodles of confidence in the film rather than Disney getting cold feet over its box office prospects.

The initial Good Dinosaur cast

Two years after it was first revealed to the public, "The Good Dinosaur" returned to the D23 convention with a much deeper look into what the movie was about. This included a reveal of the feature's cast, which was packed with recognizable names. "Raising Hope" leading man Lucas Neff was announced as the voice of the film's protagonist, plucky dinosaur Arlo, while John Lithgow and Frances McDormand were playing Arlo's parents. Arlo would also have a trio of siblings played by Judy Greer, Neil Patrick Harris, and recurring Pixar fixture Bill Hader.

Talking with Screen Slam on the red carpet after a presentation on "The Good Dinosaur," Lucas Neff expressed an incredible amount of excitement over the project and revealed further details about Arlo, including how the original version of this character had "the soul of an artist." He also noted that classic Pixar movies like "Ratatouille" were the kind of films he had wanted to be in, so getting to be the protagonist of "The Good Dinosaur" was a dream come true for the performer. Unfortunately, despite Neff's enthusiasm for the role, he and most of these other initially announced cast members would not make it into the final cut of "The Good Dinosaur," with only Frances McDormand surviving the production's rocky road to completion.

The removal of Bob Peterson from The Good Dinosaur

In early August 2013, all signs pointed to everything moving nicely on "The Good Dinosaur." Its presentation at D23 had shown off lots of promising elements from the feature and its incoming presence was even further teased that summer through an Easter egg in "Monsters University." However, just a few weeks after its D23 presence, a devastating development was reported in the motion picture. Original director Bob Peterson was taken off this production, with former Pixar president Ed Catmull attributing this change in leadership to the fact that this movie needed a fresh pair of eyes to get it properly finished.

Pixar was now taking extreme measures to figure out what to do about "The Good Dinosaur." At the time of this news, a replacement director hadn't been hired but a bunch of Pixar veterans were in charge of disparate parts of the movie. Among those who were part of this approach were the film's initial co-director Peter Sohn, Lee Unkrich, Mark Andrews, and John Lasseter. Despite the blow of losing Peterson, at the time, the film's May 2014 release date was not changed, and the team at Pixar expressed confidence in being able to deliver a quality movie on that initial schedule. The impact of losing Peterson would be truly felt a few weeks later when "The Good Dinosaur" was postponed a whopping 18 months to November 2015, and 5% of Pixar's workforce was reportedly laid off as a result of the delays.

Bob Peterson's reflections on why his Good Dinosaur faltered

When a Pixar director is removed from a passion project of theirs, they tend to leave the studio shortly afterward. Jan Pinkava, for instance, left to go work at Laika after being removed from "Ratatouille" while Brenda Chapman found employment at Lucasfilm in the wake of getting kicked off her passion project "Brave." The loss of a deeply personal project to these artists makes it understandably difficult to continue at Pixar like nothing happened. Bob Peterson is an exception to this trend. After losing "The Good Dinosaur," he continued to stay on at Pixar and would direct other projects for the studio, including the Disney+ series "Forky Asks a Question."

In an interview with Collider, Peterson noted that he never considered leaving Pixar since he always felt like this studio was his home. In illuminating why he continued on at Pixar, Peterson also reflected on why his version of "The Good Dinosaur" never went forward. In hindsight, Peterson felt he wore too many hats on the production trying to write and direct it. In the process, the second and third acts of his take on "The Good Dinosaur" were weak and resulted in Pixar deciding to revamp the feature. It was a brutal experience, but being so open about what went wrong in this directorial effort gave Peterson the room to stick around at a studio near and dear to his heart.

John Lithgow was originally going to stick around for the revamped Good Dinosaur

"The Good Dinosaur" had an incredibly troubled production, one that seemed like it must be crushing for those involved in bringing it to life. Despite how tumultuous the project was, John Lithgow, who was originally set to voice Arlo's father in the movie, was all smiles when talking about "The Good Dinosaur" to Collider in August 2014. Lithgow noted that he had once recorded all of his lines for the earlier version of the feature but that Pixar's overhauling of the film required him to go back in and re-record his lines within the next month. Even with all the problems that "The Good Dinosaur" had been through, Lithgow expressed confidence that the film was shaping up to be incredible.

In hindsight, it makes sense that Lithgow and fellow voice actor of a dinosaur parent Frances McDormand would be the two voice actors maintained across both versions of "The Good Dinosaur." The original voice actors for Arlo and his siblings wouldn't have made sense in the newer version of the feature since they were rewritten to be children. However, the ages of the parents remained consistent across both versions, so why not utilize talented names like Lithgow and McDormand? Unfortunately, Lithgow's optimism wasn't enough to keep him in the movie. He would eventually be replaced by Jeffrey Wright in this pivotal role.

How Peter Sohn's role evolved on The Good Dinosaur

Originally, Peter Sohn was just around on "The Good Dinosaur" as a co-director. This is a position that's often been filled by filmmakers at Pixar yearning to take on full-fledged directorial duties down the line. Lee Unkrich, for example, was a co-director on "Toy Story 2" before becoming a director proper on "Toy Story 3" a little over a decade later. Meanwhile, Adrian Molina was a co-director on "Coco" before getting the chance to be a director on the upcoming "Elio." Initially, it wouldn't have been surprising to see Sohn serve as co-director to director Bob Peterson on "The Good Dinosaur" and then move on up the chain of command down the line.

However, once Peterson left "The Good Dinosaur," Sohn's responsibilities on the feature changed dramatically. Talking to SlashFilm, Sohn recalled he had been working on "The Good Dinosaur" since 2009 and had been deeply committed to the project during that entire timespan. Once Peterson left, Pixar stepped in to ask him, as somebody with such extensive experience of the "Good Dinosaur" world, to take over the entire movie. Once he accepted the gig, Sohn found himself graduating to director faster than he could've ever imagined.

The thought process behind Good Dinosaur's visual aesthetic

Take one glimpse at any shot in "The Good Dinosaur" and the movie's visual aesthetic becomes apparent. Arlo and his fellow prehistoric pals look stylized and cartoony, but they exist in a hyper-realistic world. While the main characters appear to be ready-made for the toy aisle, the land they inhabit has tangible and often intimidating textures. It's a striking choice that certainly makes for some awe-inspiring imagery, especially regarding many of the backgrounds scattered throughout the movie. Pixar has often employed photorealistic backdrops in its feature films, but rarely have they looked as beautiful as they do in "The Good Dinosaur."

Going this route visually wasn't just important in terms of creating pretty images, though. Peter Sohn explained to Slashfilm that he noted that juxtaposing realism with stylized was to accentuate to the viewer why Arlo would be daunted by his surroundings. Additionally, creating a dissonance between Arlo and the environments he was trapped in was meant to ensure that the audience wouldn't think of this character as an animal who belonged in the wilderness. Instead, this visual aesthetic communicated the idea that this was a young boy stuck in circumstances he couldn't even begin to imagine. Plus, committing to this approach resulted in tons of gorgeous scenery and sequences, which is never a bad element to have around.

The importance of communication in The Good Dinosaur

Arlo the dinosaur and Spot the human come from two dramatically different worlds. "The Good Dinosaur" emphasizes their exceedingly opposing existences by giving them a gigantic language barrier. While Arlo speaks in English, Spot is totally non-verbal save for some growls and other basic noises. The duo can't have a traditional conversation and instead express their innermost thoughts to each other through means like drawings in the sand. This critical aspect is all part of how "The Good Dinosaur" was meant to emphasize the importance of communication and the many forms it can take.

"For me, the inception of all this, and I've talked about this a lot, but my parents didn't speak English," Sohn explained to Inside the Magic on why communication is so important to "The Good Dinosaur." "And so you just learn to try to communicate in other ways. It has a lot to do with body language and tone. Some of our favorite films that have connected in our family were stories that were told very well visually. And a lot of those were animated movies, where they are able to kind of put structure on things through gesture and observation and I didn't know it at the time, but that made such an impact on me growing up." Recognizing what left an impact on him as a youngster ensured that Sohn could properly realize one of the most emotionally impactful themes of "The Good Dinosaur."

Peter Sohn's learning curves directing The Good Dinosaur

Leaping into filmmaking is hard under any circumstances. It's always a challenge to figure out how to work with a large group of people, develop the communication skills necessary to create a functioning film set, and so many other hurdles. Whether your debut project costs $1,000 or $200 million, there are always massive problems. It's no surprise, then, that Peter Sohn, who was upgraded to being director of "The Good Dinosaur" after the departure of Bob Peterson, faced all kinds of learning curves in adjusting to helming a feature-length project for the very first time.

Talking to Inside the Magic, Sohn noted that a strange detail in his adjustment to being a movie director was his erratic comfort levels. When he was coordinating with departments he'd worked in previously, like the story wing or the art department, Sohn felt very comfortable. However, there were tons of other parts of the filmmaking process that he had never been exposed to before. Swinging wildly between these two levels of comfort made for an often bizarre experience, but by always focusing on how to make "The Good Dinosaur" as good as it could be, Sohn managed to power through all these problems.

How the score for The Good Dinosaur came to life

While the most famous composers that have worked with Pixar include Randy Newman and Michael Giacchino, they're far from the only people who've put together the orchestral music that defines a film from this studio. Over the years, several different composers have worked on Pixar titles, with these musicians ranging wildly from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to Patrick Doyle to Thomas Newman, among others. For "The Good Dinosaur," the score was composed by Mychael and Jeff Danna. The former figure has composed the scores for movies like "Life of Pi" and "Moneyball" in his solo career while his collaborations with Jeff Danna have included another Pixar title, "Onward."

In tackling the score for "The Good Dinosaur," Mychael Danna explained to We Are Movie Geeks that he and Jeff Danna were inspired by the consistently innovative nature of Pixar as a studio in putting together their score. They didn't want to make something ordinary, so they embraced bold creative tendencies like taking musical influences from all across the planet. The pair also recalled how the most difficult character to work with musically was the character Spot. Conjuring up a theme for this young boy was a challenge thanks to his imperfect nature, but a woodwind eventually functioned as the breakthrough instrument that could serve as his theme. Getting these tiny details just right is par for the course for any composer working on the latest title from Pixar Animation Studios.

The Good Dinosaur was the first Pixar box office dud

Before "The Good Dinosaur," there was no such thing as a Pixar flop. One or two of its titles may not have done as well as Disney would've hoped, but the studio's track record up to November 2015 was incredible. Before this month, Pixar had never released a movie that made less than $160 million domestically while all but one of its 21st-century films (the initial "Cars" being the only exception) had exceeded $500 million at the worldwide box office. There was every reason to assume, then, that "The Good Dinosaur," despite having such a troubled production, would be the latest example of how Pixar doesn't miss at the box office.

Instead, "The Good Dinosaur" ended up being the first-ever Pixar flop, grossing just $333.7 million worldwide (including a meager $123 million in North America) on a massive $187.5 million budget. It was astonishing to consider just how low "The Good Dinosaur" had sunk financially, with its global haul coming in beneath even the worldwide gross of the first "Toy Story" from 20 years earlier. In the years that followed "The Good Dinosaur," Pixar clung closely to guaranteed hits like a deluge of sequels, with only one of its subsequent five movies being an original title. After its inaugural box office dud "The Good Dinosaur," there was surely no incentive for this animation house to try something new and original.