Sunday, June 14, 2015

Don't Fret About The Dinosaurs


I see a lot of people have been worrying about an upcoming Pixar film again...

Putting all my thoughts on how a good chunk of the Internet acts when it comes to Pixar post-Cars 2 aside, here's something I've been noticing...

(And before you read on, this is another opinion piece.)

When The Good Dinosaur's new cast was revealed by Disney and Pixar this past Friday, there was a barrage of complaints and concerns all over the map. It appears that a lot of people thought that Pixar changed the cast for the film that very day, or that week, or month...

As many animation fans may know, The Good Dinosaur's original intended cast was far different from the one that's final. Lucas Neff, Neil Patrick Harris, Judy Greer, John Lithgow, and Bill Hader were all announced as the players back in August 2013. You know what occurred in August 2013? The D23 Expo...

At the D23 Expo, Pixar opened their future movie slate panel with a presentation of The Good Dinosaur. A presentation that quite frankly seemed to get mixed responses. Director Bob Peterson was surprisingly absent, instead his co-director Pete Sohn and Pixar producer Denise Ream took the stage. There, they revealed the cast, plot details, and many other things...

However, something happened in the summer of 2013. In August 2013, it was announced that Bob Peterson had been removed as director from the film. John Walker, who was set to produce, departed the project and went on to Brad Bird's Tomorrowland. (If you haven't seen it and it's still playing, go see it!) This happened with Brave, and Cars 2. That was almost three in a row, and people inevitably got worried and speculated like crazy. It was the same deal once again: John Lasseter and the Brain Trust don't want people outside their circle to direct films, are too controlling creatively, etc. etc.

Weeks later, Pixar announced that the film would be pushed back from its intended May 2014 release to Thanksgiving 2015, giving the studio a lot of time to turn the story around and then start production...

Peterson getting removed from the director's chair may have been reported in August of that year, but Peterson stopped tweeting in June. That, coupled with the no-show, makes me think that he was removed as director a little while before the announcement...

His replacement director was ultimately Pete Sohn, but Disney and Pixar would not announce this until October of last year. Back when Peterson was removed, we were told that Sohn, along with John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, and Mark Andrews were in the process of reshaping the film. When Sohn was named director (within the studio, not announced to the public) is a mystery, though it must've been no later than May of last year. Why? Have a look at this...

Pixar President Ed Catmull had also talked about the film being restarted and reimagined, all the way back in March 2014. The film that we're getting this autumn must've been set in stone a long while ago...

As for the new voice cast that was revealed last week?

If you notice, many of the original actors aren't attached because their characters were written out of the film. Arlo, the apatosaur protagonist, was supposed to have a couple siblings: Ivy (Judy Greer), Cliff (Neil Patrick Harris), and Forrest (Bill Hader). A new brother character named Buck is the only sibling Arlo will have in the film, and he's being voiced by Marcus Scribner, no one from the original cast.

It's safe to assume that the siblings were written out of the film back in fall 2013, when the story was being restarted. Also, the roles of the main characters must've changed, which could explain why Lucas Neff isn't voicing Arlo anymore, ditto John Lithgow no longer voicing the father.

John Lithgow had this to say back in August of last year...

"I recorded the entire role in Good Dinosaur. They have now dismantled it and completely reimagined it, and it is a fantastic new story. So I’m gonna record again on it within the next month. Don’t worry. It’s coming and it’s gonna be better than I ever imagined... But me and Frannie McDormand, we’re still playing Momma and Poppa dinosaur."

They completely took the film apart and "completely reimagined it", he said. This wasn't a Brave-like overhaul, what they did to this picture was not dissimilar to what they did to Ratatouille. I'm sure you know the story. In early 2005, Ratatouille wasn't in tip-top shape. Its director and originator, Jan Pinkava, was given another chance to turn it around... But Pixar's brass didn't approve of it once again, so Pinkava was off of the project he himself came up with. Brad Bird, fresh off of The Incredibles, was chosen as his replacement. They reimagined it, big time! That was a good 2 1/2 years before the film came out...

The Good Dinosaur was restarted in fall 2013, around 2 years before its release date. This is also nothing new in the world of animation. Directors come and directors go, some come on very late in the game. Changes are made at the eleventh hour to animated features that are often considered to be the greatest. The Lion King, anyone? How To Train Your Dragon's also a fine example, too. Sometimes it doesn't work out...

To hear some people talk, you would've thought that Pixar did what I just explained within a week... Last week...

That's not the case, folks. The Good Dinosaur went through its turnaround period in the fall of 2013 and it must've been in better shape by early 2014. Now as for the voices... Animation production doesn't take as long as it used to. Walt Disney Animation Studios, for example, began animation production on Frozen sometime in early 2013... No more than a year before its release! It seems like it takes Pixar about a year to do the actual animation production...

With that estimate, The Good Dinosaur began actual animation production last autumn. Approximately around November or maybe even December. Maybe they started it earlier in the year!

Anyways, Lithgow was still set to voice the Poppa apatosaur back in August 2014. Maybe scheduling conflicts got in the way, maybe something didn't work out, but again... I highly doubt that Pixar reassembled the film's cast recently. It must've been in place before 2015 began. I can't see Pixar replacing a voice actor, let alone a good amount of voice actors, this late in the game. It rarely even happens in big-scale animation, from what I've seen. (Feel free to correct me here.) There was the whole Al Pacino/Despicable Me 2 issue, and Colin Firth departing Paddington, and I have no idea when Madds Mikkelsen left Kung Fu Panda 3, but... Moving on...

Again... The Good Dinosaur was restructured and reimagined a while ago, not just recently. The reimagining was announced and talked about as far back as spring 2014, even before that! With the restructuring came a lot of changes, Lithgow says it was "completely reimagined" so the fact that the remaining characters have new voice actors (sans the mother, who will still be voiced by Francis McDormand) indicates that their roles must've really been changed. For starters: Arlo's a teenager, Lucas Neff is not, his new voice actor Raymond Ochoa is. The dinosaurs are no longer Amish-like farmers, so that's a big change right there. Nature is the main antagonist, it seems like it wasn't in the pre-Sohn version. We have no idea what else was changed, and we might not know via the "Art Of" book or Blu-ray bonus features... We'll have to rely on sources for that one!

But I see some people acting as if they sat on it for a year and a half, and then all of a sudden said "Let's reimagine the story and recast it!" last week.

The Good Dinosaur was pushed back right after it was announced that the director was off of the project. That was in September 2013. Also... The Good Dinosaur pushed Finding Dory out of fall 2015 and all the way to summer 2016. Pixar pushed a highly-anticipated sequel back to make way for an original film that needed fixing. If Pixar didn't care, they would've either rushed a mangled up Good Dinosaur to May 2014 (not dissimilar to what happened with Cars 2), or they would've made it their summer 2016 release because Finding Dory was a higher priority in a business sense.

In fact, they probably thought it was going to be delayed anyway. Long before the announcement. Even if they didn't decide on delaying it until September 2013, they still delayed it and they gave themselves plenty of time to reshape everything. They didn't just set it aside, not with it being the next after their next. Why would Pixar do so such a thing?

Or does that particular negative chunk of the Internet have such low faith in Pixar, after three films that weren't to their liking, that they would believe that Pixar would do just that? I don't know about you, but where I was, I really got hit with the hyper-negative stick the day the new cast was announced. All of it seemed to smack of ignorance of how animation production works, coupled with bias and what appeared to be personal baggage.

Then some argue that the film could still be terrible because it is a troubled production. It is a troubled production, sure, but the film itself could turn out to be great despite the hell it went through. Not like it's the only film that's a troubled production. Several great films - animated or live-action - were troubled productions, some of which were hellishly troublesome! A few examples off the top of my head: Apocalypse Now, Groundhog Day, Jaws! Animation? Hell, there's tons of them: Pixar's own Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille, the former got its big reimagining less than a year before it opened! Disney has an arm's long list of them! Pinocchio was stopped and restarted around 2 years before it came out, The Lion King was no cakewalk, neither was The Emperor's New Groove or Tangled! Frozen saw last minute changes the year it came out and it got all this acclaim!

So it being a troubled production ultimately means nothing right now. Many not-so-troubled productions turn out to be critically panned films. Again, it's not a clear-cut indicator of the film's quality...

So why the excessive negativity over this picture? Is it because Inside Out is that sparkling, perfect, 90-something percent winner critical darling? Are we so worried that Pixar will pendulum swing back to Cars 2-ville with this feature? What is it?

As for the teaser popping up in June, rather than earlier...

I went over this.

The Good Dinosaur is Pixar's first autumn release since The Incredibles. When did that come out? 2004. Long time ago...

Walt Disney Animation Studios' recent streak of CG hits were all November releases. Their marketing campaigns all began in the Junes of their respective years. For example: Wreck-It Ralph. Film opened in November, teaser debuted in June. That was a short frame! Same goes for Tangled, Frozen, and Big Hero 6. It didn't matter, the films all did well and were all well-received. All four of them.

Pixar also has/had a whole other movie to promote. They wanted to focus solely on Inside Out before getting the marketing campaign rolling for The Good Dinosaur. That's totally understandable, for Inside Out - despite being a guaranteed Pixar hit - is a pretty risky picture. Sure they could've released a Good Dinosaur teaser in February or March, but did they really have to? When they could plug the living daylights out of the first feature in line?

Don't fret, I say.

Let's just... Wait and see...

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