We’re weeks away from the theatrical release of Pixar’s Inside Out, a film that takes audiences on a journey deep inside the complex machinery of modern human emotions. But the Disney-owned animation studio is also prepping another adventure for 2015, one that takes us back to a time when humans were closer to simple, knuckle-dragging cave-dwellers.
The Good Dinosaur, the first teaser trailer for which you can see above, asks the question that has tantalized anyone who’s ever stepped foot in a natural history museum over the last century or so: What if the massive asteroid that hit Earth 66 million years ago and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs missed the planet entirely?
The answer: You’d have a heart-warming adventure on your hands, among other things.
Director Pete Sohn, still deep in the process of review meetings and editing, hopped on the phone with Yahoo Movies on Monday to discuss his first full feature as a director. The Good Dinosaur, which hits theaters on Nov. 25, tells the story of a young Apatosaurus named Arlo who gets separated from his pack and must find his way back home to his family. Along the way, he meets a young human that he names Spot, turning the film into a boy-and-his-dog story — one in which the dinosaur is the boy, and the human is the dog.
“Arlo himself is what we would have become, able to articulate and have certain emotions and connection to family,” Sohn explained. “They’ve become us, essentially… I’m trying to treat Spot in a very kind of animalistic way, where he doesn’t speak very much. He’s very feral.”
The studio was liberal when it came to the timeline of human evolution — modern humans are thought to have first appeared 200,000 years ago, while the earliest ancestors to use stone tools began breaking things less than 3 million years ago. The film happens some time after the asteroid missed the Earth, but Sohn says they avoided pinpointing any exact era: “It’s kind of an unknown, and it’s been fun to let go of what has happened. It’s given us some space in terms of the logic of the rules.”
Despite that vagueness, Sohn had a very specific plan for The Good Dinosaur, which helped him get bumped up from co-director (the equivalent of a deputy at Pixar) to boss status when the studio removed the story’s creator, Bob Peterson, from the director’s chair in the summer of 2013. That’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds; animation is a much longer and exacting process than live-action filmmaking, and productions frequently change hands over their development — in fact, this was the fourth time Pixar switched directors on one of their movies.
Sohn credits the “braintrust” at Pixar — a team of top directors, including John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Inside Out’s Pete Docter — for helping him handle his first full-length feature, comparing them to “a team of doctors” that can diagnose a problem and prescribe a creative cure.
“The heart of it has always remained the same in terms of the boy and the dog,” he said. “I’ve been very diligent with the story team to kind of protect that and focus on that more. In terms of the world, it has kind of changed a bit here and there, and some of the characters have gone out and new ones have come in.”
One element Sohn introduced was the use of nature itself as a main antagonist, which helps explain why the environments are the most realistic looking backdrops ever seen in a Pixar film.
“We’ve been trying to find physical obstacles and and emotional obstacles for our main character, and nature can represent both,” he said. “In a lot of the research that we’ve done, going out into the Northwest and out into the wilderness, I cannot tell you how beautiful and scary it can be, and how quickly nature can just turn on you. And we’re trying to finding the truth in that in terms of Arlo’s growth.”
Audiences will enter that beautiful and scary world on Nov. 25.
This post has been updated.
The first teaser poster for ‘The Good Dinosaur’