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Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Pixar Edition. The Good Dinosaur

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Good Dinosaur

Year: 2015

Budget: $175 million

Box office: $332.2 million

Plot: In an alternate history, the asteroid that would have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago passes safely over Earth.


Sixty-five million years later, Apatosaurus farmers Henry and Ida have children Libby, Buck, and the runt Arlo, who has trouble adjusting to farm life. While his successful siblings are allowed to “make their mark” (a mud-print on the family’s corn silo), Arlo’s timid nature makes tasks difficult for him.


Henry attempts to give Arlo a sense of purpose by putting him in charge of guarding their silo, and helps him set a trap. It captures a feral caveboy, but Arlo doesn’t have the heart to kill him, and sets him free. Disappointed, Henry takes Arlo to track the caveboy, leading them into a ravine. Henry saves Arlo from a flash flood before being swept away and killed.

Without his father, Arlo shoulders more of the workload. He spots the same caveboy inside the silo and, blaming him for his father’s death, chases him until both fall into a river. Arlo cannot swim, and is swept downstream where he hits his head on a rock and is knocked unconscious. Awakening, he finds himself far from home and tries to survive on his own, but becomes trapped when a boulder pins his leg.


The next day Arlo wakes to find his leg has been freed, and the caveboy appears with food for him. The caveboy then leads Arlo to a berry tree, where the caveboy fends off a large snake, amazing Arlo and impressing a nearby eccentric Styracosaurus who wants to keep the boy. He forces Arlo to compete with him to give the boy a name he will respond to, which Arlo finally wins when he calls him “Spot”.

Arlo and Spot bond as Arlo laments his lost family, and Spot reveals that his own parents are dead. Later, when a storm strikes, Arlo runs away in fear and loses the riverbank he has been following home. The next morning, Arlo wakes to find Spot at his side. They are noticed by a band of pterodactyls, led by Thunderclap, who appear to be conducting a rescue operation but turn out to be savagely carnivorous.


When the pterodactyls try to take Spot, Arlo and Spot flee, happening upon a pair of Tyrannosaurus named Nash and Ramsey, who ward off the pterodactyls. Nash, Ramsey, and their father Butch have lost their herd of longhorns, so Arlo offers Spot’s help in sniffing them out. They locate the herd, but Butch recognizes the work of cattle rustlers, and uses Arlo as a lure. Arlo and Spot attract the attention of rustler Velociraptor, allowing Butch and his family to attack. During the fight, Arlo musters his courage and fends off two raptors who have overwhelmed Butch, helping to turn the fight in their favor.


Having gained their respect, Arlo joins the Tyrannosaurus in driving the cattle south when he sees the familiar mountain peaks of his homeland in the distance, and leaves with Spot to return home. Along the way, they encounter an adult feral caveman in the distance, and though Spot shows interest, Arlo dissuades him and they continue on. As another storm approaches, Thunderclap and the pterodactyls return and attack and carry Spot away. Arlo becomes entangled in vines, where he has a vision of Henry leading him home. Arlo instead resolves to save Spot, making the vision of his father proud before it fades away.

Arlo finds and attacks the pterodactyls, who have cornered Spot at the river. Arlo and Spot together plunge Thunderclap and the pterodactyls into the water, where they are swept helplessly downstream. When another flash flood occurs, Arlo leaps into the water to rescue Spot as the two are swept away toward a waterfall. Arlo protects Spot as the two plummet down the fall, and carries him to shore.


As they approach Arlo’s home, the two again hear the unknown caveman call, and are approached by an entire cave family. With great reluctance, Arlo pushes Spot to join his adoptive family, and the two of them share a tearful goodbye. Arlo finally arrives home to his mother and siblings, and makes his mark on the silo between those of his mother and father.

Background and Animation: Bob Peterson came up with the concept of the film, inspired by a visit to the 1964 World’s Fair where he saw dinosaur animatronics. Peterson and Peter Sohn started working on the film in 2009. By summer 2013, Peterson and Walker had been removed from the film due to story problems. In September 2013, The Good Dinosaur was pushed back from May 30, 2014, to November 25, 2015 to refocus on the story. In October 2014, Sohn was announced as the new director of the film. In June 2015, it was announced that the majority of the cast had been revised.

The film’s team traveled to the American Northwest, spending time in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Juntura, Oregon, and southern Montana, and the filmmakers used data from the U.S. Geological Survey, and satellite images from Google Earth. To animate Arlo, animators Rob Thompson and Kevin O’Hara went to a zoo and shot video of elephants in motion.

Music: The film’s score was composed by Mychael Danna and his brother, Jeff Danna, replacing Thomas Newman, who was originally attached to score the film when it was set to be directed by Bob Peterson. It marks the first Pixar film to be scored by two composers. Danna was approached by Sohn and Ream due to his score for Life of Pi, which won an Academy Award. Having a lot of work, he invited his brother Jeff Danna as a co-writer.

Voice Cast:

Raymond Ochoa as Arlo. 1 2 Raymond Ochoa (born October 12, 2001) He has appeared in various commercials, television shows and movies including roles in 10 Items or Less, Merry Christmas, and Drake & Josh. Jack Bright as Spot. He voiced additional voices in Monsters University

Sam Elliott as Butch. He made his film debut in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and afterwards appeared in films such as Mask, Road House, Gettysburg, Tombstone, The Big Lebowski, The Contender, We Were Soldiers, Hulk, Thank You For Smoking, Ghost Rider, I’ll See You In My Dreams, Grandma, and The Hero. Most recently, he played Bobby Maine in A Star Is Born. Anna Paquin as Ramsey. She played the role of Flora McGrath in Jane Campion’s romantic drama film The Piano. 3 She appeared in Fly Away Home, The Member of the Wedding, A Walk on the Moon, and Almost Famous. She played Rogue in the X-Men franchise and Sookie Stackhouse in True Blood. 4 Paquin has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her work on the 2007 television film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and a Golden Globe Award for her work on the 2009 television film The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.

A. J. Buckley as Nash. He appeared in Disturbing Behavior and Extreme Days. In 2005, Buckley was offered the part of Adam Ross on CSI: NY. Jeffrey Wright as Poppa Henry. 5 Hebest known for his Tony- and Emmy-winning role as Belize in the Broadway production and HBO miniseries Angels in America. He starred as Jean-Michel Basquiat in Basquiat, Felix Leiter in the James Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Valentin Narcisse in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, and Beetee in The Hunger Games films. He stars as Bernard Lowe in the HBO series Westworld.

Frances McDormand as Momma Ida. She has starred in a number of films by the Coen brothers, including Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, 6 The Man Who Wasn’t There, Burn After Reading, and Hail, Caesar! Her other film roles include Mississippi Burning, Almost Famous, and North Country, all earning her nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In 2017, she starred in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which won her a second Academy Award, in addition to the Golden Globe, SAG, Critics’ Choice, Independent Spirit and BAFTA Award for Best Actress. McDormand made her Broadway debut in a 1984 revival of the drama Awake and Sing!, and received a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her acclaimed performance as Stella Kowalski in a 1988 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. She returned to Broadway in 2008 with a revival of The Country Girl, leading to a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Play. In 2011, she won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for playing a troubled single mother in Good People. On television, McDormand played the titular protagonist in Olive Kitteridge, which won her the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress. Marcus Scribner as Buck. 7 is best known for his starring as Andre Johnson Jr. on the ABC sitcom Black-ish. 89

Maleah Padilla plays Libby. Steve Zahn returns as Thunderclap. Mandy Freund and Steven Clay Hunter play pterodactyls in Thunderclap’s gang, director Peter Sohn as Forrest Woodbush, and Dave Boat, Carrie Paff, and Calum Mackenzie Grant as Velociraptors

Where in the World is John Ratzenberger? John plays Earl, a Velociraptor who is a member of Bubbha’s pack. 10

Pizza Planet Truck: One of the asteroids at the start of the film resembles the Pizza Planet truck from the Toy Story franchise.

A113: is spelled out with sticks on the fence of the bird pen Arlo approaches for feeding.

Critical Reception: Richard Roeper, for the Chicago Sun-Times, felt it “one strange, aggressively gross and dark adventure… Inconsistent and weird, The Good Dinosaur is second-level Pixar all the way.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times described it as “antic and unexpected as well as homiletic, rife with subversive elements, wacky critters and some of the most beautiful landscapes ever seen in a computer animated film.” Manohla Dargis of The New York Times felt the film “has a few things on its mind, but its tone is overwhelmingly playful, not hectoring.”

Legacy: A figure of Spot and Power Discs of Arlo, Ramsey, Nash, and Butch have been released for Disney Infinity 3.0.

My take: When I asked my nephew, a dinosaur nut, what he thought of the film, he replied, “Well it’s Disney, so it’s all about family and crying.” Belle’s take, after seeing both this and Dinosaur, was, “How do they consistently make dinosaurs boring?” I have to say that the environment looks incredible, about as close to photo realism as you’re going to get, which then really conflicts with the broad caricatures of the main characters.

Next Week: The film that spawned some of the most inappropriate artwork I have ever seen: Zootopia