Sohn talks about his feature debut, its main themes and emotional conections
MAR DEL PLATA: On the first leg of a jet-setting promo tour, Peter Sohn, director of “The Good Dinosaur,” unveiled a never-seen-before scene from Disney-Pixar’s big Thanksgiving Day play at a master class delivered Sunday at Argentina’s Mar del Plata Festival.
He also spoke from the heart about inspiration for his career and film – his mother, for instance – which he called “a coming of age” and “survival tale” which, when asked to sum up in one phrase, is about “overcoming one’s fears.”
The excerpt, about five minutes long, also says much about the character/background animation contrast that gives “The Good Dinosaur” much of its style.
As the first teaser for “The Good Dinosaur” made clear, Sohn’s debut feature turns on two premises: that the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed the earth; the dinosaurs evolved: Sohn’s film pictures Arlo, a talking Apatosaurus who befriends Spot, a dog-like cave boy who manages to grunt but doesn’t speak. After tragedy for Arlo, they embark on a journey. In its middle, they happen upon a family of three T-Rex ranchers who’ve had their cattle – longhorn buffalo – stolen by rustlers. Spot has a great sense of smell, which leads them to the herd, and their rustlers. The scene has Arlo terrified twice: by the T-Rex daddy, and second when the T-Rexes force him to walk down to stolen herd and holler for his life to draw out the rustlers: He can only manage a whisper until Spot bites him on the leg.
Arlo is soft-featured, leaf-green, still spindly on his legs, with pronounced eyes and knees, utterly non-threatening; the herd and the breeze-caught grassland around it, by contrast – as Peter Debruge noted when reacting to another scene from “The Good Dinosaur” at June’s Annecy Animation Fest in France – is shot with a near photo-realism, as if Pixar was producng a prehistoric documentary.
And the movie’s leitmotif – overcoming one’s fears – surfaces at two moments: Arlo is terrified first by the T-Rex family, but they turn out to be a good working family; when asked to shimmy down from a knoll to the herd and bellow, so as to bring the rustlers out of hiding, he can merely manage a gasp, until Spot helpfully bites him on the leg. Then he bellows in pain.
In its original manifestation, “Up’s” Bob Peterson had imagined Arlo as older, pictured the Arlo-Spot relationship as that of a neo-father-son. Sohn said at the Mar del Plata Fest Sunday in contrast that Arlo and Spot are like “brothers.” Voiced by child actor Raymond Ochoa, Arlo, indeed, looks younger on screen and in at least in one item of merchandising –a long-necked, clumpy-footed plant-sprout green toy Arlo plumped on the table in front of Sohn – than his 11 years, a fact which will allow him to appeal squarely to tykes.
The photo-realism of “The Good Dinosaur” is not just a stylistic flourish, however. An engaging speaker, Sohn also provided some intriguing details about the different directorial styles of Pixar icons whom he has worked with, as a scratch actor: Pete Docter on “Up,” “Inside Out,” Andrew Stanton, on “Finding Nemo.”
“Pete Docter would always hit the heart. He would always say: ‘What’s inside you? What are you feeling?’ He would always push for that.”
There’s a larger emotional dimension to “The Good Dinosaur,” indeed dinosaurs in general, Sohn argued in Argentina. “There was something kind of fun about the scale of dinosaurs, about a farming dinosaur that was very sincere,” Sohn said. “But there’s also an emotional connection. When you’re called a dinosaur, you’re old and stuck.”
Arlo suffers terrible tragedy in “The Good Dinosaur.” “So emotionally he is stuck. But with the help of his friend, he’s able to move forward.”
“The Good Dinosaur” bows Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. Being a Pixar movie, it is already being talked up as an Academy Award candidate in the animation category.