Earlier today at the D23 Expo, director Peter Sohn, who helmed the lovely short film “Partly Cloudy” and essayed memorable roles in both Ratatouille and Monsters University (he also, as John Lasseter brought up, has the unique distinction of being the inspiration for Russell in Up), screened several sequences from Disney•Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur (out this Thanksgiving). And maybe the most surprising aspect of all was that he made a high concept adventure story, about a dinosaur named Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) and his pet human, a feral child name Spot (Jack Bright), oddly relatable and deeply personal. At one point during the presentation Sohn choked up, along with much of the audience.
To explain: Sohn talked about his immigrant parents and about how they didn’t understand the movies that he loved as a child because they didn’t speak English. But with animated Disney films, she could understand them because of their emotional content, and they would share this very powerful bond. While Sohn was talking, sketches that he had drawn of his own life flashed on the giant screen behind him. It was moving and sentimental without being sappy (like Disney•Pixar movies in general) and really set relatable bedrock for a movie that takes place in a world where the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missed.
In the sequences that Sohn showed the crowd at D23 Expo, this message got across, reiterating the kind of unspoken universality that Sohn talked about sharing between himself and his mother. One of the sequences, when Arlo and Spot share stories about their families, really got the crowd choked up. And with good reason: the sequences he shared were powerful and features stunningly animated, placing the characters in lushly rendered photo-realistic backgrounds.
But that’s not all. As part of the presentation the team showcased a trio of Tyrannosaurus Rex characters that are central to Arlo and Spot’s journey. Butch (voiced, with typical hangdog drawl, by Sam Elliott), Ramsey (Anna Paquin) and Nash (A.J. Buckley) come across Arlo and Spot and use Spot’s keen sense of smell to track down some cattle rustlers (raptors of course). The vocal performances from all three actors are totally on-point and very much fit into the Good Dinosaur world; they’re both threatening and huggable. What’s even better is that we can share those characters with you, as pictured above.
At the close of The Good Dinosaur section of the animation presentation, Lasseter promised that when the film opens (on November 25), it would offer viewers a world “unlike anything they had ever seen before.” After this presentation, it’s hard to argue with him. But we would add that in addition to being unlike anything anyone has ever seen, it’s also unlike anyone has ever felt.