Jeffrey Wright, Jack Bright, Marcus Scribner, Raymond Ochoa, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley and Sam Elliott at The Good Dinosaur premiere (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)
The Disney-Pixar film The Good Dinosaur premiered last night with a gala celebration at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. The setting of the film may be prehistoric, but The Good Dinosaur is also a historic landmark for Pixar, since it is the first time the studio known for its peerless quality control has released two films within the same calendar year, after its critical and box-office hit Inside Out this summer.
Star Anna Paquin walked the red carpet accompanied by her husband and “True Blood” co-star Stephen Moyer sporting a dark haircut far removed from her days on the HBO vampire series.
Along with its reputation for quality control, Pixar is well-known for its secrecy, only offering the pages of the script relating to the character to the actors who voice the animated characters. Despite this, Jeffrey Wright, who plays Poppa in the film, did not feel as if he was left out of the process.
“I had Peter Sohn, the director, there to describe everything to me in exquisite detail,” he says of the recording process.
Actors in Pixar films may not know what is happening in the pages not relating to their character, but that is not the extent of the knowledge kept from some of them. To the surprise of Sam Elliott, the veteran actor with a booming voice made for animated patriarchs such as his character Butch, screenwriter Meg LaFauve wrote his character with him in mind.
“I was thinking of a Sam Elliott type when I wrote Butch, and when we actually cast the movie, Sam Elliott was available,” she says.
“It’s very flattering,” Elliott says upon learning that Butch was written with him in mind. “I hadn’t heard anything about her thinking about me, but it’s an honor to have someone consider you when they’re writing a piece, whether it’s animated or otherwise.”
His role in The Good Dinosaur caps off a two-year period of career resurgence for Elliott that also includes the two independent successes Grandma with Lily Tomlin and I’ll See You in My Dreams with Blythe Danner, as well as a major role on the final season of “Justified.”
“It feels great,” Elliott says. “I’m feeling very fortunate that after 47 years in the business I’m still at it.”
While The Good Dinosaur features a cast of animated dinosaurs, the inspiration for it was less Jurassic Park and more the traditional story of a boy and his dog. Screenwriter LaFauve notes, however, that it inverts the relationship from what one would expect.
“The boy is the dog, and the dinosaur is the boy,” she says. “We searched a lot of boy and dog films, a lot of films that are immersive such as The Black Stallion and films where we could articulate the story without a lot of dialogue.”
As a Disney-Pixar collaboration, The Good Dinosaur is a family affair, particular for the team that served as the composers for the film. Mychael Danna, the Academy Award-winning composer of Life of Pi, teamed with his brother, Jeff, to write the score for the film. Any film production can be a contentious clash of personalities, but this was nothing to the pair.
“We’re brothers, so we fight all the time,” Jeff Danna says. “At this point there’s not a lot of bloody noses, and there’s so much that doesn’t need to be said.”
When the pair disagrees, they have a lifetime worth of experience to solve the conflict.
“Disagreements usually mean that it’s not done yet, and usually there’s another solution. We start to analyze what the other guy is feeling until we get there.”
Most Pixar films appeal to both children and adults, so for A.J. Buckley, who voices the brother of Anna Paquin’s character and the son of Sam Elliott’s, earning a role in a Pixar film was an achievement “like making the Olympics.”
According to Buckley, “I’m definitely the coolest dad on the playground.”
The Good Dinosaur is in theaters Nov. 25.