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In the summer of 2013, Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur went through some really massive changes. The headlining news was that director Bob Peterson was giving the helm of the ship over to Peter Sohn (making his feature directorial debut), but it was also paired with the announcement that almost the entire voice cast was being replaced as well. This move was a bit of a head-scratcher, given that you’d think the actors could just alter their voices to fit the new versions of their character, but there was one key change in the making of the movie that forced the production’s hand: they made the hero of the story, Arlo, much younger, and therefore needed to significantly alter the ages of the people around him to better fit the narrative.
Back in early October, I had the pleasure of flying up to Pixar Studios in Emeryville, California, and it was while sitting down one-on-one with The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn that I got the scoop on why the major casting shift was necessary. So why did the movie have to replace the likes of Lucas Neff, Neil Patrick Harris, John Lithgow, Bill Hader, and Judy Greer with the team of Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott, Steve Zahn, AJ Buckley and Marcus Scribner? It was a chain reaction caused by a major change in the story. Sohn explained,
Well I really wanted to, first, make Arlo a younger character. He started off as more of a… what do you call it? An adult that was kind of like a kid adult? But because I want to focus on the boy and dog story, I really wanted to find that boy and understand that growth for a coming of age story. And once I did that, everything else had to kind of change. Because his brothers and sisters would not be adults – they would have to be younger. The father and mother, in terms of wanting to push for a frontier world, I wanted a little bit of that survival aspect - that everyone is trying to survive out here. So I had to change a lot of that stuff – but it was very simple because once the main character changed, everything else had to follow suit.
It was actually that “survival aspect” that wound up protecting the one actor who stayed on as part of the Good Dinosaur cast after the major shake-up: Frances McDormand. John Lithgow was replaced by Jeffrey Wright as Arlo’s father, but Peter Sohn felt that McDormand’s voice still had the right sound that he was looking for, even after the character was changed. I asked the filmmaker specifically about her part, and he said,
She could do that little frontier taste in her voice, while everyone else was still kind of either really modern or in that vain. So I said, ‘I’ll continue with her.’
The Good Dinosaur will be Pixar’s second film in 2015 - following the massive smash hit Inside Out - and it will be here sooner than you think. The new movie is set to hit theaters just in time for the Thanksgiving weekend on November 25th.