Was at the gym on the treadmill tonight and my tv monitor didn’t work. So I fixed Pixar’s mediocre success the Good Dinosaur while I ran. The film had such awesome potential but let me down in so many ways. So … Let’s start fixin’!
1. A new name
First, let’s rename the movie to “Spot.” Let’s face the facts - Arlo doesn’t have a strong enough connection to the audience to carry a film as the main character. But Spot - Spot’s got that connection. So let’s rebuild the film around him. Also, by focusing on a “pet” as the main character of the film, we’re opening up a fantastic new perspective to westerns. “What if John Wayne’s DOG was really the hero and John Wayne always got the credit for it?” That’s a unique spin on the well-worn western. Coupled with dinosaur “people” I think that’s the start of a pretty unique movie. I have a feeling we still need one more “big idea” to make the movie work but l’m not sure what it is yet. Let’s keep fixing and see what happens.
2. A better intro
Second, let’s visit this “western with dinosaurs” world some more! Rather than bringing in the idea of cowboy dinosaurs half way through the film, let’s just open with that idea. It’s strong, visually appealing, and is more in harmony with introducing the world we’ll be living in. Besides, who wants to see a western that doesn’t have a TOWN in it? Nobody. So we’ve got to visit town, people. My guess is Zootopia is the reason why the Good Dinosaur had no town in it.
Town with Dinos vs City with Animals being released within 4 months of each other. Disney execs I think took one look at development of Good Dinosaur and nixed towns and forced a rewrite. I don’t read up on animation industry drama so I really have no idea, but it makes perfect sense.
If someone can confirm, I will do a fix for Good Dinosaur without a town just to show it can be done. I don’t think it would be hard.
For now, though. We’re getting a dinosaur town! Sweet!
3. Improve story arcs
Third, let’s rework the main themes/conflicts. Dead father? Sure. Boy becomes a man theme? Sure. But these are secondary conflicts now because Arlo isn’t our main character. Spot is. Spot’s the engaging one. And the reality is he just doesn’t belong in dinosaur land. Why? Because he’s smart and he’s the future of a dying world. There wasn’t a single dinosaur in the movie that was smarter than Spot. So let’s strengthen that theme and bring it to the forefront. Dinosaurs are cool and beautiful and BIG, but ultimately they don’t have what it takes. Spot does, even though he’s seen as just a “pet.” He’s been a good pet, but he knows that out in the wild there’s something more for him. That’s where he came from, that’s where he needs to go. There’s others like him - like-minded, equally gifted. And that’s where he belongs.
Is he the hero? Sure. He doesn’t get credit but he doest’t care, either. He just cares about taking care of his master at first. But he slowly realizes that his destiny is elsewhere. Even though the friendship bond between Arlo and him is deep, the drive to live one’s own destiny is even deeper. In short, he’s LITERALLY in ARLO’s story, but he needs to be in his OWN. Outside town are packs of creatures like him that live “wild” “smart” and “free”. At some point in the film he gets separated from Arlo and meets a little girl and he remembers how smart humans are compared to the dinosaurs, he remembers his family before he was orphaned (flashback). Even though his kind don’t have speech (they still communicate just like Spot does in the current film), together they outwit, outmaneuver, and out craft dinosaurs. No fire though. That’s lame. They’re not THAT smart… yet.
4. Spot’s story
Fourth, I’m not a fan of the Spot on two legs at the end of the movie. Let’s nix it. Why? Because the point of Spot in the new film is to show that being ourselves can serve us well, and I don’t think any of the amazing things Spot did in the movie would be done better if he were on two legs. It’s precisely because he WASN’T two-legged that made him special.
Martin Luther King Jr said it another way:
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’
The implication being, if you are called to be Shakespeare, but you are sweeping streets, then you need to stop sweeping and go be Shakespeare.
That’s the theme of the movie. But in Spot’s case, there’s no poetry or anything fancy, it’s just that spirit and energy, that to be his best self, he needs to be surrounded by like-minded and like-talented people. It’s a story about community, about belonging, and about the value in that.
Ok, so with that theme flushed out a little, let’s fix some other items.
5. Delete comet
Fifth, The comet intro at the beginning? Gone. It sounds and looks like a movie pitch, not the beginning of an elegant story. Will audiences suddenly wonder “Why is there this Caveman boy????!? Cavemen didn’t exist with Dinosaurs?” No. No one thinks that. Cut it.
6. Ironing out Arlo and Spot’s relationship
Sixth, right now I’m ok with the movie being a primarily linear journey survival story - Arlo and Spot get lost from their colleagues in a big wilderness and experience dangers. I’m ok with this. But let’s not have Arlo so pitiful that he can’t even find berries for himself. Rather, they are a dynamic duo that is capable and strong - but with weaknesses. In Arlo’s case, he’s physically weak compared to his dinosaur peers. I’m fine with keeping that story element. He gets bullied for being different, loses jobs, gets underpaid, under believed in - just generally thinks of himself as other people tell him he is. That’s why he needs spot in the first place - to fill that gap. Once that gap is filled, Spot’s job is done and Spot is free to go be himself. But for now, Arlo struggles with it and with his father’s death and his mother’s indigent circumstances because of it. He’s out to find work and money for them and thereby honor his dead father, and do his duty to sustain his family. But he just can’t do things right. He’s not strong enough for farm work and struggles to make money.
7. Ditch the witch
No mystic triceratops (what’s he doing in the middle of nowhere anyway?). I’m pretty certain some visual designer drew a great tricerotops with lots of birds and someone fell in love with it and in it went. No pterodactyls either. At least not how they currently are with the mysticism and stuff. It doesn’t belong in a western. Do you guys even WATCH westerns? Keep the rustlers as they are. Keep the t-rexes. But the t-rexes need a much better intro scene then on some flat hot springs area. In general the “reveals” of characters throughout the film were just lame. Spot’s reveal, triceratops reveal, t-rex reveal … all lame with timing that was too slow. The only one that was great was the rustlers and the second pterodactyl reveal (the upside down fin in the clouds was cool).
Ok sorry got sidetracked.
8. A quick switcharoo
I’m changing the little girl I made earlier and replacing here with a mentor figure, probably a father figure. Why? Because we’re going off the Spot needs to fulfill his destiny and he can’t do that without “becoming Shakespeare” or in this case let’s rephrase it to “White Fang”. Spot needs to be the best “White Fang” he can be, and the father figure can help him on that journey in ways he can’t do on his own. Just having that figure stand in the distance is not quite enough for me to feel that Spot will feel that bond and connection. Not if Spot is the main character. Plus …
9. This is a boy’s movie
Let’s face it. Dinosaurs. Western. Survival. Wild Animals. Fishing. Hunting. Storms. Cattle Drives. There’s nothing in this film for stereotypical little girls. Let’s just own that fact. We’re making a film about boys and men, and if it appeals to women it’s because they love that stuff too. Let’s make sure that that fact drives our decision making when deciding what to put in the film. Marketing team - it won’t do any worse than a bad film will, and probably a whole lot better.
10. No mushrooms
11. No “follow the storm” theme or “relevations”
But I think Arlo’s justifiable fear of storms and flash floods is fine and having a fight in a storm as the climax is ok with me too. The way his dad dies is all fine. It just happened in the past and comes back as flashbacks/dreams or something.
12. A new bad guy
Now that we nixed dactyls we need a new bad guy. Triceratops sounds good. He’s the bad guy now. A creepy one. With lots of minions he uses to hunt people down and and and … throw them in the mines? force them into slavery? No I think something like knowledge is a more substantive problem. Arlo learns something he shouldn’t know - the triceratops is doing something illegal or unethical in town and Arlo finds out. Thus, a chase seen, then getting lost, then accidental getting found again by the wrong people, then the hunt and the storm. If we have dactyls they are servants of triceratops or employed by him.
13. Spot is seen differently
Ok, so let’s push the “Spot as a White Fang creature” one step further. He already howls. He already is a dog. His “dad” figure already looks like a wolf. So let’s make spot the “dangerous critter.” I like the critter concept. Everything that isn’t a dinosaur is just considered a “critter” but I think there needs to be something a little less puppy-like and a little more white-fang like about Spot. Not much, mind you, because he still needs to be lovable. It mostly just needs to be how dinosaurs see humans - dinosaurs see them as vermin, but in a “wolves can eat dinosaur’s cattle kind of way and not leave us enough food” not a “rabbit got into the garden! Darn shucks tootin’” kind of way. You wouldn’t just leave that WOLF critter loose in town, but if you saw a bunny or a dog, no big deal.
This theme is already pretty strong in the current film in the sense that Spot fights like a wolf, is tough like a wolf. I don’t think it makes the film too white-fangy although we would need to try a few versions to probably get it right. Balance would be key on this item.
The point of this is that that may be one of the story elements that get them in trouble in town in Act 1 - Spot isn’t supposed to be there, doesn’t belong, gets them in trouble, then in the wrong place at the wrong time. Begin Act 2
14. Just some icing on the cake
Environment design. Most people won’t care about this, but with the dinosaurs so cartoony I want the environment just one, maybe two steps more stylized. I think that PLUS all the technical chops of the film would make for a stellar film.
Ok I’m feeling pretty good that the film is now a film that I would actually want to go see for more reasons than just pretty clouds and water.
15. But …
After some thought it feels just a little TOO westerny now. Now it’s JUST a western with dinosaurs. So. Let’s tackle that problem by adding in … um … oh I know. The whole magical firefly scene that made no sense. It’s a magical western with dinosaurs. So like … voodoo and stuff. For some reason I’m feeling a lot of new orleans Princess and the Frog stuff … mostly coming from the triceratops freak, but also just nature in general has a little bit of magic. Think nighttime in James Cameron’s Avatar, but downplay it like 5 notches.
That was fifteen.
Done. NOW it’s fixed.