Idea Blog

IN THE NEWS…a dinosaur and a hedgehog

Blake Harris 06.03.2015

Yesterday, a pair of animation studios—one a legend, the other with a pedigree for great potential—released trailers for their upcoming projects. To keep our finger on the pulse of animated filmmaking, let’s take a closer look at these projects and the making of these ambitious endeavors:

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The Good Dinosaur (Pixar): Last year, 2014, was the first year in nearly a decade that Pixar didn’t release a feature film. That’s because the two films aimed at filling that spot in the slate—Finding Dory (the sequel to Finding Nemo) and The Good Dinosaur—were plagued with delays. With most studios, a delayed film is an omen of doom (see last week’s release of Aloha; or, actually, don’t see it like most of the country), but Pixar’s track record of whimsy and excellence has earned them the benefit of the doubt.

The conceit behind The Good Dinosaur begins with a What If of historical proportions. What if, millions of years ago, the asteroid that wiped out all of the planet’s dinosaurs hadn’t actually done so. What if that asteroid missed and dinosaurs never became extinct; living now, side by side, with humans in our modern world. That’s the set-up, which feels very much in line with many of Pixar’s other What Ifs—What if Cars could talk? What if Monsters were real and afraid of humans?—but the beauty of both Cars and Monsters were not just the worlds they created, but rather the narrative that trekked us through those worlds. And in the case of The Good Dinosaur, the story centers around an Apatosaurus named Arlo (voiced by Lucas Neff) who sets out on a remarkable journey, traversing much of it with an unlikely companion: a human boy. This all sounds promising, or at least in line with similar Pixar movies centered around incredible journeys (i.e. Toy Story, Finding Nemo, etc.) which begs the question: with so much of the studio’s familiar magic, what exactly led to such a lengthy delay?

The Good Dinosaur was initially set for release in May, 2014, but it was reported that Bob Peterson, the film’s initial director, was struggling with getting the film’s third act to work and was eventually taken off the project. Peterson was then replaced with director Peter Sohn (who was an animator on several Pixar classics, including Ratatouille and The Incredibles) and The Good Dinosaur’s release was pushed back a year and a half to it’s currently scheduled date of November 15, 2015. Under Sohn, some major story changes were implemented, the most pivotal of which was finding a new villain for the film: nature.

Will changes like that fix whatever seemed broken with The Good Dinosaur? For the answer to that, we’ll just have to wait and see. But, at the least, the trailer released yesterday was positively received and an early indicator that Pixar’s magic touch is hopefully far from extinct.

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Henry (Oculus): If you recognize the name Oculus, it’s mostly likely because the waves the company has made with their much-anticipated virtual reality headset (the Rift). But just because Oculus plans to dominate the hardware side of VR, they are acutely aware that the blueprint for long-term success with hardware is typically a matter of having great software. And so whether that means games, movies of virtual experiences, Oculus has made a concerted effort to ensure that great content is being made.

One of the steps that Oculus has taken to demonstrate their commitment to quality was the creation, this past January, of an in-house production studio. Dubbed the “Oculus Story Studio,” this division initially made waves for a couple of reasons:

  1. The Story Studio is staffed by veterans of Pixar and Dreamworks
  2. Their first film, a short VR experience called Lost (that was helmed by former Pixar director Saschka Unseld) premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Lost pitted users into the middle of a dark and mysterious forest where a gigantic robot hand searched these woods for the rest of its body. At the festival, as well as the cities it traveled to afterwards (including New York!), Lost drew rave reviews. This, of course, excitedly propelled the follow-up question: What’s next?

Well, yesterday we got the answer to that. It’ll be Henry, the story of a hedgehog who—despite his species’ notoriously pointy quills—just wants to be hugged. The film is directed by another Pixar alum, Ramiro Lopez Dau, who was an animator on Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University. Other notable animators involved with Henry include Kendal Cronkhite and Bernhard Haux, who come from Dreamworks and Pixar, respectively. Henry and will premiere in Los Angeles on July 28 and become available free of charge to consumers who purchase an Oculus headset after they go on sale in early 2016.

Will Henry ultimately help Oculus follow in the footsteps of Pixar, and create a brand of storytelling that can similarly juggle story, visuals and tone? At this point, it’s impossible to know. But that trailer has me more excited than ever to find out.

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