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Last week, we learned that the creative crisis behind Pixar’s upcoming film, The Good Dinosaur, saw virtually its entire star-studded voice cast abruptly replaced. It was a startling display of instability for a project on the level of a Pixar feature. However, director Peter Sohn is now speaking out, revealing that the massive turnover was a necessary creative decision.
In an interview with Yahoo UK, Sohn discusses how the move to replace the cast was the result of the widely reported overhaul of the storyline that delayed the film’s planned 2014 release. While the original voice actors were expected to return to re-record their performances, the alterations were too vast, especially when it came to the film’s protagonist, dinosaur, Arlo. According to Sohn:
It was all about finding a younger Arlo. It was really about finding a boy [to play Arlo], so that we could push into that idea of him growing up and becoming a man, so the actor previous – who is a great actor – he was already a man, and so I needed to push that arc and find that compassionate kid, so that was the major kind of change.
The film’s main character, a 70-foot-long anthropomorphic Apatosaurus named Arlo, was originally voiced by 29-year-old actor Lucas Neff. However, it seems that his apparently more mature performance conflicted with the film's newly realized vision, which called for a younger, more innocent-sounding voice for the lost young dinosaur who develops a friendship with a feral pet human child he names "Spot." Thus, the recent announcement of the new cast revealed Neff’s replacement with 13-year-old Raymond Ochoa. The product of an acting family, Ochoa brings a mix of youth and experience, having provided voice work for features like Monsters University, Mars Needs Moms, and Disney’s A Christmas Carol.
Consequently, with such a radical alteration to the aura and personality of the film’s protagonist, the established cast dynamic also proved to be a proverbial wrench thrown into the cogs. According to Sohn, the supporting cast of characters experienced an evolution as the result of the refurbishing of the protagonist, and most of the previous performers had, as he put it, "changed out of it." Of course, names amongst those exiting supporting performers included notables like Neil Patrick Harris, John Lithgow, Bill Hader, and Judy Greer. Only Frances McDormand, who voices Arlo’s mother, survived this Pixar purge. However, with those losses, the film gained names like Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott, Jeffrey Wright, and Steve Zahn.
According to the latest update from Sohn, his delay-plagued Pixar pic is currently only 50% animated, with sequence plans still being handed to animators with just five months to go before its intended release. Having worked on the film since its inception, Sohn found himself promoted to full director after the exit of original helmer, Bob Peterson, back in 2013. Yet, despite the clearly overwhelming undertaking that saw a complete overhaul, Sohn says he simply approaches the job as a parent caring for a kid who is sick. Having called in "the doctors" of the creative team, he says that he follows the advice given from Pixar creative royalty, Andrew Stanton, to just "trust your gut."
Nevertheless, it will certainly be interesting to see if this long logistical ordeal will prove fortuitous for The Good Dinosaur or if the chaos will render the film a rare dud for the long-esteemed Pixar brand. That ultimate verdict will be handed out when the film hits theaters on November 25.