Over the past 20 years, Pixar has delighted countless moviegoers by breathing life into all sorts of creatures and objects: ever since cowboy doll Woody and space action figure Buzz Lightyear first burst onto the scene – and into our hearts – in 1995’s Toy Story, viewers have been introduced to talking fish, sentient cars, office-going monsters and more.
In their next big project after the highly successful Inside Out (which gave feelings to, well, feelings), the animation studio takes us to an alternate universe where ancient creatures survive and thrive in The Good Dinosaur. The computer-animated flick centres on Arlo, a young Apatosaurus who befriends a human cave boy during his journey to find his lost family. As they trek through strange lands and confront a variety of colourful characters, we get to witness Arlo’s transformation from cowardly to courageous.
During a press presentation by Pixar president Jim Morris last month, we learned that The Good Dinosaur had undergone a lot of drastic changes ever since the story idea was conceived in 2009, including its release date, director and voice cast.
Jim elaborated a little more on the overhaul in an interview with Toggle, “It’s pretty much completely different from the original, which we liked, but there were problems with the story that we weren’t able to solve, so we scrapped that completely and came up with something else.”
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One example of the divergence is in the overall premise of the movie. “At first it took place in a community of dinosaurs, something like a village, but now it’s a kind of prehistoric buddy road trip picture by comparison,” he said.
All this reimagining inevitably meant a two-year delay for its theatrical opening, but that ended up being a blessing in disguise: thanks to the breakneck advancement of technology, filmmakers were able to create even more stunning environments that look like they were photographed. To achieve this breath-taking realism, Jim revealed that the team built the sets on top of actual scans of landscapes from Montana and Wyoming in the U.S.
With 15 consecutive commercial successes under their belt (even the critically panned Cars 2 grossed almost S$800 million worldwide), it’s safe to say that Pixar has another box office giant waiting to rear its massive head. But what happens if, by some cruel – but also unlikely – twist of fate, that’s not the case?
“I’m not worried about (a bad reception),” Jim stated assuredly. “What matters is that it’s a good film.”
Addressing the so-called “Pixar slump”, during which lacklustre projects like Brave, Monsters University and, of course, Cars 2 had folks wondering whether the company’s golden age had come to an end, Jim said, “People will make choices about what films they like and didn’t like – different audiences have different points of view. It didn’t seem like a slump to me; I mean, the last several films we made are the ones that I’ve been proud of.”
(Clockwise from top left: Inside Out, Brave, Cars 2, Monsters University)
Neither is he unnerved by the ever-growing number and influence of “rivalling” animation companies that sprung up after Pixar made its mark, most notably DreamWorks (which gave us Shrek, Madagascar and How to Train Your Dragon).
“It’s great to have them for a lot of reasons: there’s competition to keep us on our toes, but it’s also good to have others out there contributing to the animation world in a way that may be different from us and inspiring other audiences,” he elaborated, adding, “We’re constantly worried about whether we make a film that’s terrific for audiences – we don’t need pressure from the outside!”
Besides being terrific, there’s another (much less subjective) trait that Pixar pictures will always aim to have: to be suitable for viewers of all ages. When we asked if the studio would ever venture into doing more “grownup” content such as horror, Jim replied, “It’s possible that it’ll be in the background but not a pure genre; it would end up being like all the other Pixar films – always family-oriented and family-friendly.”
The Good Dinosaur is in cinemas November 26.