Wyoming Inspired Scenes for Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur" - Wyoming Magazine


Wyoming Inspired Scenes for Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur”


Wyoming Inspired Scenes for Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur”

In a twist on the classic western story of a boy and his dog, The Good Dinosaur is a tale of a dinosaur named Arlo who becomes separated from his family in the American west. Along the way, he befriends a lonely human boy whom he names Spot. Together, they travel the wilderness in a valiant effort to return home safely. The journey takes them through scenes reminiscent of the same landscape we all know from famous westerns – and for good reason.

The Pixar animation team used 65,000 square miles of topography data as a backdrop to create their alternative Wild West, information which they downloaded from the U.S. Geological Survey. Even as the dinosaurs are deliberately drawn to be cartoonish caricatures – no Jurassic Park realism – the land Arlo and Spot have to cross could have been filmed in real life.

That attention to detail makes the film seem more realistic and draws the viewer into what is otherwise a silly answer to the classic what if scenario: what if they dinosaurs had not died off in an asteroid collision? Could the dinosaurs really have evolved into these stereotypical farmers in the Old West? Not likely. But if they had, this is exactly the type of world they would have been living in. Here, humans are wild animals which raid feed barns and a T-Rex is more cowboy than killer, but they all live in a very realistic environment.

As New Zealand proved with their booming tourism industry centered on being Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there is money to be made if a place can successfully link themselves to a popular film. People want to believe that the places they love in fiction are real, and traveling to the areas where they are filmed reinforces that belief. Normally, that leads people on pilgrimages to animation studios or theme parks, but Wyoming is betting that The Good Dinosaur can lead people to its stunning natural vistas.

The state’s Office of Tourism and Disney-Pixar teamed up to put lifelike backdrops to the animated scenes and the resulting landscape is one straight out of Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and other famous parks and landscapes of the American west. As Arlo and Spot travel together down the river, looking for his family’s farm, they pass by scenes straight from Ansel Adams paintings. Mountains, valleys, forests and streams come to life for the viewer just as they do for our beloved “boy and dog” because they directly call to the same Wild West visions we have from legends like John Wayne.

When picturing the background of the movie in his mind, Director Peter Sohn wanted a place that combined breathtaking beauty with a constant sense of danger. Just like in the old Westerns, the landscape would both strengthen and challenge Arlo and Spot as they journeyed along the river for home. By forcing them to confront dangerous obstacles and yet see the awe-inspiring beauty of their world, the film creates a visual backdrop for the inner struggles which they both face.

Both Arlo and Spot have suffered loss. Even though it may seem to tear them apart at the beginning, it also brings them together. As they struggle to survive in a dangerous wilderness, their inner conflicts weigh heavily upon them. Quite often, the river becomes the true antagonist of the movie. Those same struggles and conflicts have played out in countless American westerns, and by locating the movie in the same setting as those earlier films, this heartwarming movie plays to our very human sense of possibility and wonder despite those obstacles.

The first trip was a location scout in the Jackson area in 2013. It was followed by a second trip in 2014 by the Pixar team, which traveled into Wyoming twice so they could become more familiar with the land they were animating. During the second visit they took hundreds of pictures and spent a lot of time in Yellowstone National Park, researching the exact look and feel of the film’s environment. As a result, natives and those familiar with the state’s scenery who view the film with a keen eye will be able to spot stylized versions of the Grand Tetons, Oregon Buttes, and favorite places in Yellowstone.

The location also had its basis in true Earth history. The real Arlo would have roamed a very different looking western United States 150 million years ago, millions of years before the first Spot walked the same grounds. Visitors to the state can go to the UW Geological Museum and see an actual Apatosaurus skeleton. Many of the dinosaurs featured in the film were locals too, and their remains are still being excavated to this day. Officials expect them all to receive a boost in interest following the film, and the Office of Tourism is working closely with Pixar to market its many local connections.

As an official destination partner, the Office of Tourism will be able to use characters, animation and still shots from the movie in order to market their state’s tourism industry. The 1.2 million dollars budgeted for winter and spring tourism will feature all of those things, and capitalize on the popularity of The Good Dinosaur. The campaign was launched in mid-November to coincide with the Thanksgiving opening of the film. During the red carpet roll out, media interviews were held on the iconic bucking bronco imagery synonymous with the state. The office also paid 100,000 dollars to promote their state at the premier.

Tourism officials hope to capture a sense of adventure among the youngest viewers, many of them from other states who have never seen Yellowstone or other famous parks before. By introducing their state first through a popular children’s movie, then following it up with an advertising campaign showing how parents can take their children to the same place where Arlo and Spot traveled, officials trust that they will see results and introduce a new generation to Wyoming’s natural beauty.

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