What’s the predominant theme in most Pixar movies? Friendship. Whether it’s between a boy and his toys (or among the toys themselves), a couple of robots, two fish each searching for something or a race car and a tow truck that’s past his prime. The studio pushes our emotional buttons because the connection we feel – or at least want to feel – between ourselves and someone else is the most basic of all. We all just want to be held, understood and cared for. So the stories they’ve crafted that play into that are among their best and most memorable.
Now they’re here with The Good Dinosaur, which touches on a similar theme. Set on what amounts to an alternate Earth where an asteroid did *not* crash into the planet and end the age of dinosaurs, the movie tells the story of an Apatosauras named Arlo who gets separated from his family and must find them. While on the journey he encounters a young human whom he names Spot (see where they’re going here by giving the caveman boy a pet’s name?) and the two must make their way back to Spot’s home while learning to confront their fears together.
The first teaser poster was pretty simple, not even containing the movie’s name. Instead it just shows what looks like a cave drawing of a dinosaur with the handprint of a human child in the middle. That nicely sets up the two main characters and even hints a small bit at the story without going too deep into anything. It’s a really good teaser.
A few character posters were released after that, one for the T-Rex that is featured in the movie, one for the combination of Arlo and Spot that shows the two of them trying to look tough to each other and one for the triceratops they encounter during their journey. Each one has not only the character but also a quick couple of words about them and their personality. They’re all pretty good and show off more of the movie effectively.
The theatrical poster uses a key moment from the movie that’s shown (as we’ll see) in at least one of the trailers, with Spot on Arlo’s back as they’re surrounded by fireflies of some kind. The two are looking around them in obvious wonder, allowing this one to convey not only the relationship between the characters but also the sense of childlike wonder that will be a theme throughout the movie, it seems. This is a moment of joy that really sells the movie as one with some magical enjoyment in store for audiences. At the top the audience is told (as if they didn’t know) this comes “From the creators of Inside Out,” Pixar’s most recent – and highly emotional – box office hit. A motion poster version of this one was released shortly afterward.
The teaser trailer is all about setting up the premise. So we start in an asteroid belt as one big rock gets hurled toward Earth but misses as the grazing dinosaurs just look up as it passes by. We then cut to just a couple scenes that show some of the startling cinematography and adventures that the movie will have while not really exploring the story at all.
This one is just about creating awareness and setting the stage and it does that fairly well, especially in establishing this as taking place in what amounts to an alternate timeline where the dinosaurs didn’t die off, at least not at this moment.
In the first official trailer we get an abridged version of the asteroid setup before we get right into meeting Arlo, who’s having a hard time reaching some food. Then we meet spot and see that they’re going to help each other on this adventure they’re on, despite some initial trepidation. We got shots of the kinds of things they’ll do that are both wonderful – running through a field of flowers, the encounter with the fireflies – and terrifying, such as a battle with a big snake-like creature and more.
That trailer is almost entirely silent, a tactic that works pretty well at putting the emphasis on the visuals and characters. We know exactly what’s going on despite the lack of dialogue and, more importantly, the emotions are allowed to really come through. This is really effective and actually makes me wish Pixar would fully commit and do a silent film at some point in the near future.
What was billed as the “final” trailer starts out by setting up the premise but then quickly shows more of the character relationships from the film, starting with how the young dinosaur gets separated from his parents and encounters the young human he’ll go on his journey with. From there on it’s about the two of them getting into and then out of one situation after another as they try to get home.
This one is very sweet and sentimental, which was its intended effect. I like how this one peels back more of the movie’s layers to show the story arc as opposed to just selling the look and feel of the film.
The next and truly final trailer focused on the friendship between the dinosaur and the young human, but it did so by placing it in the context of all the other memorable friendships from Pixar’s 20 years of previous movies. So we start out with clips from Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Inside Out and more, positioning The Good Dinosaur as the next in a series of touching, emotional movies that aren’t about technology but about the relationships between characters. This is a tactic the studio has pulled out for earlier movies and yeah, it still kind of works.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website opens at the top with a short video montage of clips from the trailers, but this isn’t actually one of the trailers or TV spots.
Below that is a video and link promoting Dino Week, a week of Disney celebrating the release of the movie by encouraging people – kids in particular – to find out more about more about dinosaurs and share what they like about the creatures. The site has videos, links to information about the movie’s characters, activities to do that involve baking, printing coloring pages, attending some sort of event and more.
Continuing to move down the site, next up is a brief synopsis as well as cast list for the movie. That’s followed by a bunch of character profiles that introduce us to the other dinosaurs we’re going to meet during the movie.
Finally there are a variety of video clips, including the trailers, and a gallery of 12 stills, including a couple of production concept paintings.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot was actually quite different from the trailers. We still get the setup about an alternate world where that fateful asteroid did not hit the Earth and the dinosaurs continued on. But then we see quite a bit more of the adventures of the young dinosaur and the human boy, including hearing (for I believe the first time in the formal campaign) Arlo talk. We get some fun scenes of the two of them on their adventures and lots more and yeah, it looks like it’s going to pull on quite a few heart strings. It plays a lot more broadly than the trailers, likely because TV is for dumb people so you have to adjust accordingly.
The movie benefitted plenty from studio relationships as audiences got an early look via the Disney Infinity game, which added Arlo and Spot as playable characters.
There was also a deal between the movie and the state of Wyoming meant to encourage travel and tourism to the state.
Media and Publicity
Unfortunately some of the early buzz during production wasn’t great. The original director was replaced fairly late in the game because the story just wasn’t coming together and much of that story was scrapped and completely overhauled, leading to an unusual amount of negative speculation for a Pixar release.
As with most Pixar movies, a central component of the press was just how the movie was created. That included interviews on how the creators tried to make a dinosaur into something akin to an 11 year old and other technical details.
The team had some fun with the asteroid that passed by Earth on Halloween by releasing a video that drew the connection between it and the asteroid that sort of sets things in motion (or fails to do so) in the movie.
Meg LeFauve, who wrote both this and Inside Out, talked about the pressures of coming on the project, which she did fairly late in the process. Meanwhile director Peter Sohn would talk about the research he and the team did in Oklahoma and elsewhere since the movie is ostensibly a western and they wanted to get a sense of the wide open expanses and other visual cues for the movie.
This certainly hits all the right notes, ones that are particularly familiar if you’ve paid attention to Pixar’s previous campaigns. So it’s filled with all the usual emotional elements we’ve come to expect while also doing a decent job of outlining at least the broad strokes of the movie’s story.
As with most movies like this, though, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s being played a bit more lightly than the actual movie. So I’m guessing the action and terror in this movie may be a bit more intense and less consistently comical than the trailers would have us believe. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, mind you, since I think it’s good that kids sometimes feel some genuine fear while watching movies, especially when it’s (hopefully) relieved later. But this campaign is selling a wide-eyed, magical adventure and the movie itself might be a bit more genuinely dramatic than this is letting on. We’ll have to see.