An Unlikely Friendship Drives This Incredible Journey Home
Pixar Animation Studios takes you on an epic journey into the world of dinosaurs with The Good Dinosaur where an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend named Spot.
While traveling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.
This absolutely enchanting film asks the question: What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct?
“From the moment Arlo is born, he’s afraid of the world,” says first-time director Peter Sohn, a 15-year Pixar veteran and graduate of CalArts. “He’s fun-loving and determined; he’s got a lot of fire when it comes to his desire to help his family. And his father is his biggest supporter. But Arlo is scared. His fear holds him back.
“Spot is the opposite of Arlo,” continues Sohn. “He’s tenacious, brave and an animal in every sense of the word. It’s the story of a boy and his dog—only in our story, the boy is a dinosaur and the dog is a boy.”
Inspired by the American Northwest, filmmakers found that even towering dinosaurs could feel small in the right surroundings, which worked to intensify Arlo’s fears. According to producer Denise Ream, the stunning and often overwhelming landscape that artists created ultimately played an important role in the story. “Nature can overcome anything,” she says, “including a massive dinosaur.”
This original story catapults Arlo into a vast wilderness, where he struggles to face his fears and survive, all while dealing with the tragic loss of his father.
Arlo encounters a host of unique personalities who all contribute to his evolution—whether they mean to or not. But the friendship he builds with Spot has the biggest impact. Spot can’t speak, yet he gives Arlo the kind of loyalty and unconditional love that fuels his self-discovery. “Arlo has a lot to overcome,” says Sohn. “His father always knew he was capable of much more, but it’ll take this emotional journey for Arlo to realize it.”
“‘The Good Dinosaur’ is one of the most emotional movies we’ve ever made,” says executive producer John Lasseter. “It’s really funny and clever, and as the story unfolds, this deep emotion emerges. You fall in love with Spot right along with Arlo. Their bond is so interesting and unique—so different from anything we’ve ever done. It’s a very special movie.”
The Good Dinosaur is executive produced by Lasseter, Lee Unkrich and Andrew Stanton. With original concept and development by Bob Peterson, the film features a story by Sohn, Erik Benson, Meg LeFauve, Kelsey Mann and Peterson, and a screenplay by LeFauve. Music is by Academy Award-winning film composer Mychael Danna (Life of Pi) and Emmy-nominated composer Jeff Danna (Tyrant).
Flipping the ‘Boy and his dog’ story
In a world where dinosaurs never became extinct and humans roam the wild, “The Good Dinosaur” features a simple, relatable story. “It’s really a coming-of-age story,” says Sohn. “Arlo is afraid of everything. But his father, Poppa, is always there for him, encouraging Arlo to step out of his comfort zone, to confront his fears, to make his mark.”
Arlo desperately wants to impress his family, but finds himself continually falling short.
Says screenplay writer Meg LeFauve, “Arlo disappoints his father time and again, but Poppa always believes in him. And even though Arlo doesn’t know it, that unconditional love gives him strength that he’ll need later.”
Arlo’s siblings, sister Libby and brother Buck, are bigger and more confident than he is from the very beginning. Work and chores around the farm seem to come easily to them, which only shines a brighter light on Arlo’s weaknesses. “Poppa gives Arlo a job—a mission to earn his mark,” says Sohn. “Arlo is tasked with catching a critter, a pest who’s eating the food they’ve stored for the winter. At last, Arlo has a chance to prove his worth. But in the end, he can’t do it. He can’t kill this creature he’s captured, and he sets it free, much to his father’s disappointment.”
Poppa’s subsequent tough-love lesson turns tragic, and Arlo has trouble coping. “He blames the critter for everything,” says Sohn.
Arlo‘s anger ultimately results in a major misstep that leaves him lost and far from home. According to filmmakers, that marks the moment Arlo begins to transform. “Arlo really needs to be on his own and go on this quest to become who he is meant to be,” says story supervisor Kelsey Mann. “His struggles in the wilderness help him grow and see beyond his fear.”
His chances for survival are dubious until an unexpected ally shows up and lends a hand. The critter, later dubbed Spot, doesn’t venture far from Arlo—despite the dinosaur’s angry feelings towards him. That single act of kindness—when Arlo releases him from the trap—reveals something about Arlo’s character that he has yet to realize. Spot quickly proves to be a great resource to Arlo and slowly, becomes a friend. “Spot is loyal to Arlo,” says LeFauve. “This big dinosaur could’ve killed him the moment they first met—he was supposed to—but Arlo set the critter free. And Spot will never forget that kindness.”
The unlikely friends embark on an eventful journey through stunning but often unforgiving environments in an effort to get Arlo home. Their story unfolds visually—a hallmark of Pixar storytelling that’s taken to new heights in “The Good Dinosaur.” “It’s a story that doesn’t have a lot of dialogue,” says Sharon Calahan, director of photography-lighting. “The combination of breathtaking vistas, dramatic weather and overwhelming vastness affects us so profoundly that we’re immersed in the story. We’re carried away. We can relate personally to the relationship that’s developing between Spot and Arlo.”
The duo encounters an array of intriguing characters, including raptors, pterodactyls and a family of T-Rexes. In the world of “The Good Dinosaur,” herbivores have taken up farming, while carnivores became ranchers. According to Mann, the T-Rexes Arlo meets are the dinosaur version of cowboys. “They’re quiet, intimidating, tough and massive, but they play a big role in opening Arlo’s eyes to his fear.”
Arlo wants the T-Rexes to help him, but realizes he’ll have to help them first. “They don’t know Arlo,” says LeFauve. “They don’t know anything about his fear, so they treat him like they’d treat any other dinosaur, and they really give him no choice but to go for it. Courage, he learns, isn’t about not being afraid.”
But Arlo’s feelings toward Spot are the key to his growth. “Spot teaches Arlo about bravery and gives him strength,” says Sohn. “Looking internally teaches him about love and friendship. Even though Spot and Arlo don’t speak the same language they find that not only can they communicate, but they actually have a lot in common. It’s through that connection that Arlo begins to care more about his friendship than his fears; he realizes that he has more to offer than he ever imagined, which gives him the confidence he needs to combat their obstacles, complete his journey home and ultimately make his mark.”
Artists, Technicians and Voice Talent Bring Dynamic Characters to Life
The heart of “The Good Dinosaur” is the friendship that develops between Arlo and Spot—two characters who begin the story at odds. They don’t share a language and—at least at first—have little reason to come together at all. But thanks to a life-changing journey and a host of characters—good, bad, big and bigger—Arlo and Spot find common ground and a relationship that will change them both forever.
Behind the characters was a phenomenal team of artists, storytellers and technicians tasked with crafting the look and personality of each. Says producer Denise Ream, “Everyone came together to nurture the characters and make this story special.”
Filmmakers Venture to the American Northwest to Walk in Arlo’s Footsteps
Director Peter Sohn and Pixar’s team of artists and technical wizards went to great lengths to create colorful personalities, to capture the magic of nature and—above all—to tell a compelling and believable story. The effort—as with all films at Pixar Animation Studios—began with in-depth research.
The team consulted experts about dinosaur anatomy and child psychology. To develop their own tone and style, filmmakers referenced a host of iconic films—Western films like “Shane,” Carol Ballard movies like “The Black Stallion,” plus “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Top of the Lake” and “Stand By Me,” among others. A few members of the team visited the American Northwest to brainstorm Arlo’s homestead, the effects team got themselves swept down the American River, and research trips to Juntura, Oregon, and to regions surrounding Jackson Hole, Wyoming, immersed the filmmakers in the landscape where Arlo would soon find himself hopelessly lost.
The idea of getting lost was a theme from the get-go. In fact, says producer Denise Ream, it was the motto of an early research trip to Wyoming to go horseback riding near the Teton Range and river rafting down the Snake River. “We put a trip together to immerse Peter and a few other members of our team in that world,” she says. “We went into it hoping to get lost—to have that feeling that anything can happen without warning.”
And it did. Associate producer Mary Alice Drumm narrowly escaped serious injury during the group’s horseback expedition. “We’d been riding for a long time,” she says. “We’d reached the top of a hill where we found snow on the ground and were about to turn around to head back when my horse got cold and decided to drop and roll over in the dirt. I jumped off, but my foot was caught in the stirrup.”
Drumm pulled her leg out before the thousand-pound horse could hurt her, but the incident showcased just how tentative life in that environment could be. The vast surroundings showed director Peter Sohn just how small one can feel there. “The horses had never really been through part of that terrain so we’d watch the horses watch their own feet as they stepped over icy water not wanting to trip. It was thrilling—because of the nooks and crannies of the valley, we never knew where we were headed. We took turn after turn, going higher and higher until we finally saw the peaks of the backs of the Teton Range.
“Everywhere we went, there was a duality: something beautiful and dangerous at the same time—like landslides beneath sunsets,” continues Sohn, who wanted to incorporate that sense of danger into Arlo’s journey through the vast landscape.
Filmmakers also went rafting down the Snake River while in Wyoming. The experience provided first-hand reference for creating the river sequences in the film. But it was a guide’s ability to read the river and locate a fallen GoPro camera that really struck filmmakers. “He knew that river so well that he could calculate where the camera might come to rest downstream,” says Sohn. “We really admired that level of understanding of nature.”
Early on the show, the effects team took a separate rafting trip down the American River to experience the kind of rapids Arlo encounters. “We started out early in the morning when the dam release makes the river swell up and create rapids,” says effects supervisor Jon Reisch. “The rapids were really churning and our boat flipped around and went backwards, hitting the wall of the canyon. We got swept underneath the current and ended up getting kicked out downstream. Having that shared, visceral experience of how powerful the water felt really informed and inspired what we were able to bring to the river sequences in the film.”
“The river became the vehicle that would take Arlo hundreds of miles away from home, where he wakes up and begins his life quest,” adds Sohn. “That same river becomes the yellow brick road back to his family. And that simple concept became our basic structure: he gets washed away in first act and then fights his way home throughout the second and third acts.”
BOB PETERSON (Original Concept & Development By/Story By) is an Academy Award®-nominated screenwriter and director at Pixar Animation Studios, and the voice of several of the studio’s memorable characters. Peterson and his fellow writers, Andrew Stanton and David Reynolds, were recognized with an Oscar® nomination for best original screenplay for Pixar’s 2003 film “Finding Nemo.” In addition to his writing contributions to the Oscar winner for best animated feature, Peterson lent his voice to the character of Mr. Ray, the tuneful manta ray teacher.
Peterson has been a key player at Pixar since 1994. His first assignment was as a layout artist and animator on “Toy Story.” He went on to work as a story artist on “A Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story 2,” and as story supervisor for “Monsters, Inc.”
Peterson made his directorial debut as co-director of 2009’s Academy Award®-winning feature “Up.” Peterson, Pete Docter and Thomas McCarthy were nominated by the Academy for best original screenplay for their work on the film.
Peterson was the voice of the aged chess-playing hero of the short “Geri’s Game,” as well as the paperwork-obsessed slug-woman Roz in “Monsters, Inc.” and the loveable and loyal Dug the dog in “Up.”
Born in Wooster, Ohio, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and Dover, Ohio, Peterson earned his undergraduate degree from Ohio Northern University. While studying for a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, Peterson had his first experience working in a computer graphics lab. It was there that he also first experienced cartooning, writing and drawing for “Loco-Motives,” a daily four-panel strip for Purdue University’s Exponent newspaper.
Upon graduating from Purdue, Peterson moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., to work for Maya creator Wavefront Technologies, and then to Hollywood-based Rezn8 Productions before joining Pixar in 1994.
He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
ERIK BENSON (Story By/Story Lead) joined Pixar Animation Studios in June 2008 as a story artist on the Academy Award®-winning feature film “Toy Story 3.” He continued as a story artist on “Cars 2,” and as a writer on the Toy Story Toon “Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation.” He is currently working on an upcoming feature film project.
As a story artist, Benson provides visual story telling to a project’s script pages, utilizing compositional staging, environment and character blocking. Each storyboard aims to maximize drama and entertainment, while making the story point as clear as possible. Story artists have to draw characters acting, camera moves and very limited effects animation to sell an idea or emotion.
Raised in Apple Valley, Calif., Benson attended California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). He resides in the Bay Area.
KELSEY MANN (Story By/Story Supervisor) came to Pixar Animation Studios in 2009, and was the story supervisor on Disney•Pixar’s 2013 feature film “Monsters University.” In this capacity, he oversaw a team of five to eight story artists through the process of storyboarding the film. Mann also contributed ancillary material during the production of the Academy Award®-winning feature “Toy Story 3.” He directed the short “Party Central,” which was released theatrically in front of “Muppets Most Wanted.”
Mann launched his animation career as an intern at Reelworks, a small Minneapolis-based commercial studio. From there, he moved to Los Angeles in 2000, tackling a variety of positions, including animation, storyboarding and directing for companies such as Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. and Lucasfilm Animation.
Raised in Burnsville, Minn., Mann attended Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich. Growing up, he was a fan of everything related to film, animation and puppetry.
Mann resides in Petaluma, Calif.