Chinese film-goers may see Pixar's Good Dinosaur before US

If granted, request would mark big change in strategy for animation studio - which wants film shown before blackout period for showing foreign productions begins in December

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 September, 2015, 5:51pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 September, 2015, 5:59pm

Animation giant Pixar hopes to release The Good Dinosaur across China ahead of the film's US opening on November 25, according to studio president Jim Morris. "It hasn't been accepted in China yet, but we're just presenting that to China. We're hoping that it will get accepted and maybe actually go before the US release," he said.

Hong Kong movie-goers, however, won't be able to catch The Good Dinosaur until around the Lunar New Year in February.

Pixar's push to secure a general release in China for The Good Dinosaur before it opens in its domestic market marks a dramatic change in strategy. For example, Pixar's most recent movie, Inside Out, opens in China on October 6 - making it the last market to show the animated feature, which by September 27 had taken US$774 million globally.

The studio's push for a general release in China ahead of the film's US debut is aimed at getting it shown before the so-called blackout period in China, set to begin in December, during which there is a freeze on releasing foreign films to allow domestically made titles to prosper.

"The problem we have is that there's a limited number of foreign films that they take in China," said Morris. "Disney alone will have [at least] 10 potential films [to open next year], but we're not able to release that many in China due to their quota."

He cited the Disney animations Zootopia and Moana, as well as Pixar's sequel Finding Dory, as examples. "And that doesn't count the live-action films like Star Wars and the Marvel films," he said.

"We might be able to sneak a Dinosaur in, but it'd be more challenging to [find] the opportunity next year. I'm not saying that it rules out [a release] next year, but we're aiming for this year if we can get in."

The Good Dinosaur revolves around a timid apatosaurus named Arlo which tries to make its way home after being swept away in a river, and along the journey picks up a new friend, an orphaned cave boy named Spot.

In a twist of characterisation, the "boy-and-dog story" sees Arlo speak in fluent English, whereas the human Spot howls and walks on all fours.

The release of this heart-warming, coming-of-age tale has been delayed due to a well-publicised creative impasse, which saw initial director Bob Peterson replaced mid-production by first-time feature director Peter Sohn.

The film was originally scheduled to open in May 2014.

“We all liked the movie from the beginning, but … the story had some kind of fatal flaws in it that none of us really saw. It was kind of a Billy Elliot story. It was a very different kind of movie – there was a whole dinosaur culture and community and so forth.

“It was one where the Arlo character was kind of repressed by the community. It never quite felt right. It always felt like that we were vilifying this group [of dinosaur characters] that was otherwise a very likeable group. It just didn’t feel like it resonated truly.”

"We do it with some frequency," Morris jokingly interjects, when asked about the change of director, made in August 2013. "I'd say Ratatouille was almost as cataclysmic when we changed directors, to be perfectly honest with you. And when we changed the directors out of Toy Story 2, it was an utter disaster. So in our lineage of screwing up our movies, I would say we're kind of in our sweet spot," Morris quipped.

The entire voice cast - save actress Frances McDormand - was subsequently replaced to fit the story rewrites. Asked about changing the voice actor for Arlo from a 29-year-old to a 13-year old, Morris said: “No, it wasn’t to make it more kid-friendly. Well, the 29-year-old sounded pretty juvenile too. But we did want to have a little more of an innocent character, certainly at the beginning, and one that could capture a certain fearfulness in this character that wasn’t actually part of the character in the first incarnation of the film. The change was made for story reasons.”

The Pixar president dampened the hopes of Inside Out fans for a sequel. Asked if one is in the pipeline, Morris said: “Not right now. [Director] Pete [Docter] and producer Jonas [Rivera] have a new and equally weird idea that they’re working on, so we’ll probably play through on that for a while.

“I wouldn’t rule [a sequel] out, but the nice thing about working for Disney and the set-up is they don’t really dictate a slate or anything. I mean, I’m sure they’d love to have another Inside Out, but I think it’d be a long ways away, if at all.”