The Lessons From “The Good Dinosaur”

Pixar usually makes decent movies. Yet one of their latest movies, “The Good Dinosaur,” had a troubled history. Apparently Pixar animated most of the film and hired actors to voice different characters, only to discover that the story wasn’t working. Why Pixar would go through that much effort and expense to create a half-formed story, only to abandon most of it later is a mystery. That simply shows the hazards of not planning ahead of time.

Think about it. What’s easier to do? Rewrite a story treatment or dump fully completed animation that you spent months creating along with hiring actors to voice the different characters?

Why Hollywood consistently wastes money making movies before making sure the story structure is complete is like building a skyscraper only to discover that the foundation isn’t solid enough to hold the building. It’s always easier to write a story and change a paragraph or more than int is to film entire scenes only to completely dump them later. The lesson to learn from “The Good Dinosaur” is to make sure you have a decent story before you start writing a screenplay. If you don’t know how your story is going to end, chances are good you’re going to wind up wasting a lot of time writing a mess that will need to be dumped anyway.

Pixar did manage to salvage “The Good Dinosaur” and turn it into a decent, but not great movie. One element that worked in the film is the use of character actions. When the dinosaur (the hero) is trying to communicate with a child, the hero draws a circle and places sticks in the sand to show the members of his family.

That’s when the boy understands and places sticks in the sand to show his family members too with a mother, a father, and him. Then he knocks over the sticks representing his mother and father and buries them. The hero knocks over the stick representing his father and buries him too. This wordless scene is far more impactful than any dialogue could do, and that’s the purpose of a great scene.

Action is something the audience can see and experience. Dialogue is far weaker in comparison.

This action of drawing a circle in the sand gets used again in the end when the dinosaur is telling the boy to go back with the humans as his new family. By drawing a circle around the humans, the dinosaur tells both he boy and the audience what he wants the boy to do. Because we’ve seen and understood this action before, it makes a far more compelling emotional impact on us when we see it again.

Actions speak louder than words. Make action carry your most emotional scenes. Then make sure you have a good story to begin with before you waste time writing. That’s a lesson Pixar had to learn the hard way, but at least they fixed their expensive mistake and created a decent story anyway.

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