Behind the Scenes of THE GOOD DINOSAUR
By Evy Baehr, Executive Managing Editor
THE GOOD DINOSAUR is all about a cute, timid dinosaur, who has to grow up. After getting lost from his family, he must build courage to go against the storms and trials.
Movieguide® had the chance to hear from the two main characters, Raymond Ochoa, playing the lead dino, Arlo, and Jeffrey Wright, playing his Poppa. What they say about father, son relationship, is wonderful.
Question: So, I’ve want to ask you, Raymond: How was Jeffrey as a dad?
Raymond Ochoa: You know, for the three hours I’ve known him, he’s pretty cool. I just met him a couple hours ago. I feel like we’re getting close.
Jeffrey Wright: Absentee father to that point.
Question: Jeffrey, how could you?
Jeffrey Wright: We’re making up for lost time in these last few hours here.
Question: How exciting was it for both of you to be asked to be a part of THE GOOD DINOSAUR?
Jeffrey Wright: Well, I live vicariously through these things with my children, intensely exciting for me because it was so for them. Beyond the popularity of the movies and the prominence they have for children my kids’ age and Raymond’s age now, they’re really good stories. It’s seriously well considered storytelling. The themes of this one, which are so universal and fairly obvious around parenthood and family and love and responsibility and nurturing and all of these things, are so resonant. So that’s really very gratifying to be a part. THE HUNGER GAMES went a long way in this regard, but now a Pixar movie makes me even that much cooler with my kids and their friends in school. So that’s advantageous.
Question: What about for you, Raymond?
Raymond Ochoa: Well, I think I can speak for every actor that at some time in their life they’ve come across a point where they’re like, “I want to be in a Pixar film.” Trust me, I have three older brothers that are all actors, and they tell me every time, “Wow. I can’t believe you’re in a Pixar movie.” It really, in my eyes, is really a dream come true, because I have wanted to be in a Pixar movie for a while. I love MONSTERS, INC. It’s my favorite movie of all time. So just to be in a Pixar movie, I’m so grateful for that. It’s an amazing opportunity, and I thank Pixar every day for giving me [the opportunity].
Question: Movies like this reflect on my relationship with my father. So what do you think this movie, and specifically your character, say about fatherhood? Where do you draw the line of trying to push your son to be more than he is or trying to accept your son for what he is?
Jeffrey Wright: Well, you know that’s the core issue/challenge for Poppa, my character, and so what I tried to use in order to understand the emotions and the dynamics of this relationship, was to draw from my relationship to my son and my daughter. So it’s a lesson I think that we all, if we’re trying to be responsible parents, come up against in our work with our kids. Not just once, but it’s a really central question, of what level of encouragement or when pushing your kids does more damage than good, and how do you strike that balance between a nurturing posture, and one that’s a bit too overbearing? All parents go through that, you know? That’s what’s so wonderful about this movie, because you are experiencing the movie through the relationships you have with your parents or with your children. So, we as audience members, therefore, bring a lot to the table as we’re watching this. I think it’s a fantastic story for parents to watch with their kids, or for kids to see with their parents…and on Thanksgiving, too? I mean really, what else are you going to do?
Question: Jeffrey, for a career that hasn’t had a lot of paternal roles, except for maybe the very bizarre dynamic in BOARDWALK EMPIRE, what was it like to actually get a call to play something that is different from what you’ve done before, and to be given the opportunity to be playing a loving father?
Jeffrey Wright: BOARDWALK and Narcisse (Jeffrey’s character in BOARDWALK EMPIRE) had his own expressions of love as well, it was maybe not our understanding. I try to choose the next role because of its dissimilarity to the previous. The roles that you choose are reflective of where you are in life. I’ve been a parent for 14 years now, and that begins to inform the choices that I make, not only what roles I will play, but what roles I’m not interested playing anymore or even the logistics of working, not wanting to be away from home for too long, or things like that. So it’s just a function of my growing up, I guess, that these roles are being tucked into my portfolio now.
Question: For both of you, tell me how well you adapted to creating a character with only your voice, especially in a story that’s as emotional as this one? I imagine it was a challenge.
Raymond Ochoa: Well, a lot of people asked, “Is there a big difference between voice-over acting and live acting, being seen on camera?” I really don’t think there is. When I go into a voiceover booth, it’s more like me just talking and me doing the gestures as well. It’s not just me talking in front of a mic, which I think a lot of people don’t understand, but it’s just how I do it. It makes me able to bring out more emotion than just talking and being sad, just acting like you’re sad, in front of a mic. So I think it brings out more character in it. It gets a little tougher because obviously you can’t go too much because then the mic won’t pick up on you, so you have your boundaries on it. I think it was such a good movie, and there are so many levels in the movie, where you’re sad, you’re yelling for your life but you’re joyful at the same time, there’s really realms of everything. It was an amazing movie to film, because I really got to test myself and my acting abilities. I’m grateful.
Jeffrey Wright: I enjoy voice work a lot. I do a fair amount of it, not necessarily in animated features, but a lot of narration, documentary narration and commercial stuff. I really enjoy playing with the nuances of the voice and with the breath. It comes from working in theatre too. It’s a very central tool. So, I think there are challenges, but the challenges really are mitigated by the people with whom you’re working, and in this case, Peter Sohn was really critical in understanding what needed to be done from a vocal perspective, because we didn’t see a lot of the film before working on this, and it was incomplete. He had such a clear vision, and clearly articulated vision, for what this world was, for what the details were, what the nuances were needed for the emotional journey. It was really pretty extraordinary. [He was] so deeply passionate about the work in a wonderfully childlike way, almost kind of perceiving it, as a director, in the way that a young audience member might. He’s got a really vibrant, idealistic imagination; it was really very comforting. Because I’ve been in situations on other animated projects where you didn’t have that clarity, and there’s no way you can know, because it’s not my body, I don’t know. So I’m going to have to trust what’s told to me. In this case, Peter couldn’t have been more comprehensive and clear in his direction. It was a really wonderful experience. You’re just a small part of it at the end of the day. I mean you’re kind of the last noticeable layer, you know? They’ve got whole sections in the credits of a thousand people that worked on volumetric clouds, you know? You’re this critical human element because you’re literally breathing, you’re giving your breath to the palette that technology has drawn. You’re just one element in a huge army of people that are required to pull this off.
Question: So Raymond, I’m going to ask you, being of the school-age class, what kind of research and preparation do you do going into a film like THE GOOD DINOSAUR when you’re going to be playing a dinosaur? Did you call on those things you learned when you were in elementary school about dinosaurs?
Raymond Ochoa: You mean my current self.
Question: Your current self, yes. How do you prepare to get in that mindset of being a young dinosaur?
Raymond Ochoa: I have great parents, and they’re so helpful in everything I do. So when I knew that I was an Apatosaurus, they helped me on what it actually was. They helped me Google stuff, they helped me Google facts about it, good things about it, what it actually looked like – because I had no idea what it looked like, I had no idea what an Apatosaurus was at the time, but you get to learn those things. I looked it up and was like, “Wow, okay.” I saw a picture of it and was like, “This dinosaur doesn’t look that mean. He doesn’t look kid-friendly at the same time, either. If you saw that thing walking, you’d be scared of it.” So, being a Pixar movie, you kind of do have to be able to research enough work to be able to make it look like and sound like a dinosaur that’s kid-friendly for kids to be able to listen to and be like, “Okay, I’m not scared of that voice.” My voice was really high at the time, so no one could be scared of that voice. I got through it. After I watched it, I was like, “Wow, I really like the outcome of it.” The schooling did work for it, being able to research stuff. Because I researched stuff that my parents didn’t find, either. They researched their own stuff, I researched my own stuff, and that’s how it really happened. I got a lot of research out of it, I got a good idea of it, and I think that was a lot of what helped me get the part, because I did go in with the understanding of what it actually was, rather than a person who just says lines in front of the thing and is like, “Oh, okay. Send it over.”
Question: What is the most interesting thing that you remember learning about your character?
Raymond Ochoa: What it actually looked like. I think that was the most interesting [thing]. It could have looked like a Tyrannosaurus Rex for all I knew—obviously I knew it wasn’t that. Yeah, it was really cool knowing what it looked like, because after I knew what it was and what kind of animal, or what kind of dinosaur, it was, I got to see what it was. It was really cool because having seen the long neck, and – what did you know it as?
Jeffrey Wright: Brontosaurus.
Raymond Ochoa: Yeah, that. I don’t know how to pronounce that. I know how to pronounce Apatosaurus; I’m still trying to get that one right. Yeah, it was really cool to be able to see what it looked like.
Question: What part of the movie did you like the best of the story?
Jeffrey: I studied early Apatosaurus farming techniques, though. Sorry.
Question: No, we really wanted to ask you that. What did you like best about the story? Was there a part of the story that really touched you, that meant something more than the others?
Raymond Ochoa: On a movie side, where it’s like, “What’s your favorite scene?” that was really when Poppa takes me out to the field, and he shows me when you move your tail these fireflies come out. The reason why I like that scene so much is because I felt like it was a bonding moment between me and my dad, and the reason why is because later, I do the exact same thing with Spot, I show him the fireflies, and it felt like I connected with him in a bonding moment. In the beginning of the movie, I hated Spot. I did not like him. So, to know the change and the level between me not liking him and bonding with him like he’s my pet, that’s what I found so cool about it.
Question: In terms of the nature of your conversations with Peter, just talk about those conversations in terms of the goals you guys discussed, in terms of what you guys were trying with the characters, and then within the context of what those goals were, maybe what were some of the more challenging moments that you felt like it was a little bit harder to get the right tone and beat for?
Raymond Ochoa: Well, Peter, he was so helpful in telling us what the characters were, their backgrounds, their ideas. He told me that I was scared. For all I knew, I thought he was this brave dinosaur, because that’s what I think dinosaurs are, I think they’re brave. That’s not Arlo; he’s not like that. He informed me about that; he informed me about every other character.
Interview: What was the most challenging part?
Raymond Ochoa: It was the fact that I had to bring out, because I’m a very open person, so to have a dinosaur and talk like a dinosaur that’s not outgoing, he’s very shy, he’s not like me. That’s when real acting had to come out. Because it’s not me, I had to pretend to be my old self, because I was like that at one point. So I had to reach really deep into my old self, and that’s what happened. It was really cool, though. It was a fun experience.
Jeffrey Wright: Peter was so: it was just all living in his imagination, it was living in his head. As Raymond described, it had multiple levels of detail for every character, and background, he knew where Poppa had gone to college, agricultural tech, I think it was in Colorado. It was just like unbelievable levels of detail. Again, I can’t overemphasize enough how he expressed it all through this almost initially disarming or kind of alarming innocence. He’s really wonderful. There’s a genuine joy and simplicity of that joy that he expresses in describing this world to us and in working with us. It really made him seriously infectious. That’s what’s required to tell a story like this. You can’t fake it, you know? He’s got this genuine joy, but also a genuine sense of the ideals that are expressed through this live within him and are very meaningful to him.
Raymond Ochoa: He’s a very intelligent person.
Jeffrey Wright: That too.