The Bad History Behind The Good Dinosaur

the good dinosaur

Like most heart owners, I love Pixar. The first 11 films to come from the studio (Toy Story to Toy Story 3 and everything in between) were all instant classics, then they made Cars 2 (2011), Brave (2012), and Monsters University (2013). These outings were less impressive for a studio we’d come to expect great things from every year, which is why this summer’s Inside Out felt like a breath of fresh air. Last week we got the first trailer for this fall’s The Good Dinosaur, which I’m cautiously optimistic for, despite the well documented rocky journey it’s had getting to screens.

If you’re like me, you love listening to good storytellers talk about the twisted paths they sometimes have to take to reach their final destination. Pixar writers and directors have always been candid when talking about near misdirections taken with their films and decisions to change large story elements late in production. But with a release date pushed back twice, a different writer, producer, and almost all new cast than what the film started out with, we’re left wondering if The Good Dinosaur is the film that it was originally intended to be at all, and if that’s a good thing. 

In June 2011, it was announced that The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs directed by Bob Peterson (Up) and produced by John Walker (The Incredibles) would be released November 27, 2013. It wasn’t long after this initial announcement that Pixar pushed back the release date for the first time, saying that the film, now called The Good Dinosaur, would be released on May 30, 2014.

Lucas Neff, John Lithgow, Frances McDormand, Neil Patrick Harris, Judy Greer, and Bill Hader were to provide voices of dinosaurs and humans co-existing, which were the only plot details that were known at the time. By summer 2013, the director and producer had been removed from the film due to problems cracking its third act. Peter Sohn (Partly Cloudy short) stepped in for Peterson who moved on to developing another Pixar project, while Denise Ream (Cars 2) replaced Walker, who left to work on Tomorrowland.

In September 2013, The Good Dinosaur was pushed back once again, this time by a whole year and half, to November 25, 2015. Some believe this delay directly led to Pixar laying off 67 employees and closing Vancouver’s Pixar Canada offices to refocus efforts in California’s main office. It’s also why we didn’t get a Pixar film in 2014.

In August 2014, John Lithgow was quoted saying that the film had been dismantled and “completely reimagined.” At the time, he was expecting to re-record his role, when in fact Frances McDormand would be the only actor to make it into the next version. Lucas Neff was replaced by Raymond Ochoa, John Lithgow was replaced by Jeffrey Wright and three siblings to be voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, Bill Hader, and Judy Greer, were cut altogether and replaced by a single brother, Buck, to be voiced by Marcus Scribner. Even composer Thomas Newman, not to be confused with Pixar’s often used Randy Newman, had to leave the project.

Pixar’s stories, both onscreen and off, seem to usually have happy endings. Writers and directors often credit these crisis moments with forcing them to face whatever issues are preventing the film from being great, and overcoming them. It’s unfortunate that those who originated the project didn’t get to see it through, but its success would once again prove the strong sense of purpose and collaboration that Pixar as a whole has come to represent.

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