We sent a reporter to cover the press day in Los Angeles for The Good Dinosaur, which opens on November 25th, 2015. The Good Dinosaur is the second film released by Pixar this year, following the journey of a young dinosaur named Arlo and his human companion, Spot. The movie is nothing like Inside Out, it is rated PG and has a darker feel to it. I wished for a little more levity along the trek, but I did enjoy the interaction between Arlo and Spot (and Arlo and his dad). The moments that touched me most always included those characters together. And we learned quite a bit about the film at the press day, which featured Jeffrey Wright (Poppa) & Raymond Ochoa (Arlo); Sam Elliot (Butch), Anna Paquin (Ramsey) and AJ Buckley (Nash); Peter Sohn (Director) & Denise Ream (Producer), and Sanjay Patel (Sanjay’s Super Team Director) & Nicole Grindle (Sanjay’s Super Team Producer). The event was held in roundtables with the actors and filmmakers paired as I grouped them in the previous sentence.
Photo Courtesy Disney/Pixar
The relationship between Poppa and Arlo is one of two integral relationships in the film. Jeffrey Wright (Poppa) and Raymond Ochoa (Arlo) bonded onscreen as father and son, but in real life they spent just a few hours together. When asked how Jeffrey was as a dad, Ochoa said, “You know, for the three hours I’ve known him, he’s pretty cool…I feel like we’re getting close”. Wright has his own children in real life, and said that starring in the Pixar film made him that much cooler with his kids and their friends.
The Good Dinosaur has a very strong father and son theme to it. Wright was asked about that and said there were challenges between being nurturing and overbearing. He feels that there is something that can be brought to the table when families watch together, saying “I think it is a fantastic story to take in – for parents to take in with their kids, or for kids to take in with their parents”. Wright has been a parent for 14 years, and that does effect the type of roles he will or won’t take, as well as how long he can be gone from his family.
One of the questions asked to Ochoa and Wright was about whether voice work is very diffent than acting in a traditional sense. It is a question I frequently ask when interviewing actors who voice animated characters, because so often the answer is different each time. Most actors voicing characters do not act together, but I was surprised when Linda Larkin (Aladdin) said she did work with other actors at times. Ochoa and Wright had different answers as well, with Ochoa saying that working on The Good Dinosaur wasn’t too different than what he is used to, because he is still having to act out the character. Jeffrey Wright enjoys voice work, and does a lot of it. He said of it that he enjoys “playing with the nuances of the voice, and with breath”.
Wright said that Director Peter Sohn really helped guide them through the movie, because they hadn’t seen much ahead of time. “Peter couldn’t have been more comprehensive and more clear in his direction. It has been a really, really wonderful experience”.
Sam Elliot (Butch), Anna Paquin (Ramsey) and AJ Buckley (Nash) were asked what it was like to be tapped by Pixar to voice dinosaurs. Buckley said that it was “like getting a call that somebody has made the Olympic team”. They all agreed on how cool it was to be chosen by Pixar for the film. Like Wright and Ochoa, they hadn’t spent any time together even though they play siblings in the film. And just like Wright and Ochoa, they really accented how Sohn’s vision helped them play their parts, even though he walked them into a room with an “empty canvas”.
Anna Paquin said yes to the film before she even know what it was about, and said that Pixar seemed nervous to approach her to play a “badass T-Rex”. But she was very much into it, and said she got to be “one of the dudes”. And while Paquin and Buckley went to Pixar to film their scenes, Elliot voiced his in a day, in Los Angeles. Elliot said that the film has been a “gift”.
Director Peter Sohn and Producer Denise Ream talked about fear and survival. In the film, Arlo went through a lot over the course of the film, including storms and near-death experiences. Sohn and Ream talked about how “you can’t beat nature”. Sohn said that nature is one of the “biggest, most powerful things in our world”. But Sohn continued that survival was the key to it, and that Arlo also learned about beauty. Arlo learned about family and love as well – that family isn’t always who we expect. When Sohn was asked about creating a film with much less dialogue than in most movies, he reached back into his childhood. His mom and dad were from Korea, and his mother loved films. She took Sohn to the movies often, and had to ask him what was happening because she couldn’t understand the dialogue. But when they went to animated films, she didn’t have to. Films like “Dumbo” were self-explanatory, with universal themes and visuals.
Last up was Sanjay Patel (Sanjay’s Super Team Director) & Nicole Grindle (Sanjay’s Super Team Producer). This animated short was not like anything I’d seen before. It has a heavy religious and mythological influence to it, but Patel was also inspired by other sources, including Super Friends. John Lasseter helped steer them in a more serious direction instead of being too cartoonish. The short shows the generation gap between a father and son, which is a universal theme – but it also brings them together in a common bond. Patel said that he grew up in the U.S., not really seeing anyone on television that looked like him. And when he had the chance to bring this story to the screen, he jumped at it.
The Good Dinosaur releases on November 25th, 2015.