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The Pixar Theory: How The Good Dinosaur Fits In Pixar’s Universe

the good dinosaur pixar theory

The Storm provides.

In 2013, I wrote the first draft of The Pixar Theory, an essay that makes the case for how and why every Pixar movie takes place within a shared universe.

Just this past year, I published a book that finalized this draft into a more convincing and fleshed out read that you can check out here, but you can get a decent idea of what we’re talking about by reading the original article. Just keep in mind that much of what I wrote in that first blog post has been changed and improved on over the years.

Also this year, I posted how Inside Out (Pixar’s other 2015 movie) fits into the Pixar Theory, which you can check out here for even more context.

Yeah, I know it’s a lot of reading. As we talk about The Good Dinosaur below, I’ll do my best to add refreshers from past articles, so you don’t have to keep clicking around.

Needless to say, this post contains a lot of spoilers for The Good Dinosaur, so if you haven’t watched it yet and don’t want it spoiled for you, then check back later after you’ve had a chance to see the movie. You’ve been warned. 

That said, it’s time to address a question I’ve been getting for over two years now…

THE BIG QUESTION

Does The Good Dinosaur take place in the same universe as ever other Pixar movie? Including Toy StoryFinding Nemo, and even Cars?

the good dinosaur pixar theory

We’re going to address that question and then some. But first, let’s talk about something possibly more important. Let’s talk about what The Good Dinosaur contributes to the shared Pixar universe, beyond how it potentially “fits in.”

In other words, we’re going to talk about how The Good Dinosaur makes the Pixar Universe Theory better.

For one thing, it actually answers some major questions I’ve been asking since day one of putting this theory together. And I know plenty of people have wondered this too:

WHERE DOES “MAGIC” COME FROM?

If you’re at all familiar with this theory, then you’re plenty aware of how magic plays a mysterious role in the shared universe of Pixar. But one thing I’ve never fully understood is where it’s supposed to come from in a world where animals can cook and toys can talk.

I’ve claimed in the past that the wisps of Brave are where this magic originated, or at least point to magic tying in with nature somehow. I’ve also posited that wood is a source of magic, which is certainly evident given how doors have dimension-defying capabilities in multiple Pixar movies, including Monsters Inc, and Brave.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

Humans can use magic from what we’ve seen, or at least some type of it. In my book, I argue that the supers from The Incredibles received their powers through government experiments in order to be spies (at first), which would explain why they seem to have military experience and backgrounds in espionage.

But it’s unclear how technology could make a person fly. It’s unclear how Boo from Monsters Inc., could harness the magic of a door and travel through time. It’s unclear how humans of the distant future could find a magic tree with fruit that could transform them into animalistic monsters (a tidbit from the Monsters Inc., DVD).

But with The Good Dinosaur, we finally have a suitable theory for where this magic comes from, as well as a proper starting point for the Pixar Universe.

THE SET UP

The film opens 65 millions years in the past, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. The opening scene clearly shows us a world like the real one you and I live in, where animals eat from the ground and have primitive senses.

In reality, it’s believed by many that an extinction-level event is what caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs as we know them today. A predominant theory is that an asteroid wiped all of these creatures out, long before mammals like humans ever came to be.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

Pixar accepts this premise and turns it on its head by proposing a world where there is no extinction of the dinosaurs because the asteroid misses Earth entirely. Millions of years later, dinosaurs are still the dominant species on a very different-looking planet, while humans are just now arriving on the scene.

One thing I love about The Good Dinosaur, by the way, is how the film doesn’t rely on any exposition to illustrate what’s taken place since the asteroid missed Earth. We just see an apatosaurus family tending to their farm. Right off the bat, we learn that dinosaurs have become the most intelligent creatures in this world, able to provide shelter, fences, and resources for themselves and other creatures.

They’re smart. They use their appendages in unique ways to ensure their survival. It’s a simple reimagining, but it’s effective. And it parallels nicely with what we’ve come to expect from future animals in the Pixar Universe, notably Remy from Ratatouille, an animal who manages to become a better chef than any other human (in Paris, at least).

So right away, The Good Dinosaur hammers the point that when left to their own devices, animals can become just as intelligent as humans, as we also see in A Bug’s Life with Flik’s inventions and ingenuity ensuring the survival of his entire community.

In the same way, the apatosaurus family of The Good Dinosaur relies on the harvesting of food to get them through a harsh winter. Arlo, the main character, is the youngest of three siblings to the apatosaurus parents who run the farm. To “earn his mark,” Arlo is given the responsibility of catching a feral critter who keeps stealing their food.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

We eventually learn that this critter is what we know as a human. He’s a small, wolf-like boy who doesn’t appear to have his own language beyond grunts, and Arlo adopts him has his pet after the two get washed away by the river, far from home.

From there, the movie shows us their long journey home, and a lot happens over the course of these few weeks. We learn quickly that this part of the world suffers from frequent storms, some of them looking like typhoons. Later, it’s evident that very few dinosaurs are around, despite the fact that they’re the most intelligent species around.

We see a few dinosaurs along the way, but only in small groups, rather than herds. Towns and settlements are apparently scarce, but still alluded to. And every dino is obsessed with survival.

Forrest, the Styracosaurs, chooses to live in the wilderness under the protection of the creatures he carries around with him. This is played off as a joke, mostly, but it shows just how harsh life is in this world for reasons that are left to the imagination.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

It’s also telling that Forrest is just as fearful as Arlo, and with good reason. There’s not much food around, and though these dinosaurs are smart, some are being born with an innate (possibly learned) sense of fear.

We certainly get a feel for how scarce resources are by the time we meet the hybrid Nyctosaurus gang, led by Thunderclap. I say hybrid because like the other dinosaurs in this film, they have many traits that have evolved from the fossils we have on these creatures. In fact, every creature in Thunderclap’s gang is a different species.

These flying creatures are a “search and rescue” team who scavenge the helpless creatures traumatized by the frequent storms. “The ‘Storm’ provides” is not just a weird catchphrase for these beasts—it’s their religion. They worship the storm for giving them much-needed food.

Isn’t it strange that Arlo got sick from eating plants that weren’t fruits like berries and corn? Millions of years earlier, we saw dinosaurs eating grass just fine, so what changed?

the good dinosaur pixar theory

Before we get to that, it’s important to point out how the T-Rex family manages to survive. They have to raise and take care of a bison herd by themselves in order to have enough food, often fighting off vicious raptors desperate for their food. And the T-Rexes are constantly on the move, which probably has something to do with how the environment is too volatile for them to settle down anywhere, as well as the fact that they have to find enough food to feed their food.

WHY?

If dinosaurs have been evolving for millions of years, then why are they having such a hard time, now? In the opening scene, there are many dinosaurs all eating together without a care in the world, so something big had to happen between those good times and the bleak world we’re introduced to countless years later.

Well, I think it’s pretty simple. These dinosaurs are living in a “post-apocalypse” of their own civilization. At one point, they probably had plentiful resources to sustain a massive population, much like you’d expect. But what we see is a shifted environment. The lush jungles filled with edible plants that we know existed millions of years ago have vanished by the time we meet Arlo, just as they would have if the asteroid had hit Earth.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

 

Simply put, the world slowly became less optimal for the dinosaurs to roam, which the movie goes out of its way to illustrate. Arlo’s family is on the brink of running out of food because rival creatures like the mammals (AKA humans) are stealing their food and thriving in this new environment. These storms are a product of this change, as the world gradually corrects the imbalance of reptiles and mammals caused by the lack of an extinction-level event.

And many years later, the same “correction” will happen between man and another new species: machine.

In other words, Pixar loves cycles. And the Pixar Universe is as cyclical as they come. It’s actually pretty amazing how a simple movie like The Good Dinosaur offers such a close parallel to stories they’ve already told, Pixar Theory or no.

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER PIXAR MOVIES?

If The Good Dinosaur exists in the same timeline as movies like The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, then where’s the evidence of those movies being a result of this alternate universe where dinosaurs ruled the Earth much longer than planned?

What about fossils? Certainly, the Pixar movies would exist in a world where the fossil record is drastically different. What about these strange creatures in The Good Dinosaur that don’t look like any animals we’re aware of, like the dreaded cluckers?

Well, that’s where Up comes in.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

Early on in Up, we see that the famous explorer Charles Muntz has found a place in South America filled with plants and animals “undiscovered by science.” That place is Paradise Falls (or, “The Lost World” as the narrator puts it).

And what is the prize creature that Muntz discovers? It’s no dinosaur. It’s a bird (Kevin). And this is a bird that bears resemblance to the bizarre makeup of the “prehistoric” birds and raptor-hybrids we see in The Good Dinosaur, who have originated from this alternate universe where evolution was never halted.

And that’s not where the weirdness ends. Cut from Up is the explanation for why Charles Muntz is still spry and healthy, despite being much older than 80-year-old Carl Fredericksen. According to Pixar, Muntz found Kevin’s eggs, which somehow have the ability to slow down the aging process (my book covers this in more detail, but that’s the gist).

So Kevin’s existence, as well as this rare, superhuman ability, finally has an explanation. Somehow, the longer evolution of these strange creatures brought about magic  or at least something that resembles magic — that can eventually be harnessed by humans in various ways. After all, what is it really that makes those dogs in Up talk? And is it any surprise that Muntz comes across Kevin’s existence in the 1930s, not long before the sudden rise of supers with strange abilities?

the good dinosaur pixar theory

Remember: The Incredibles takes place in an alternate version of the 1950s and 60s. Mr. Incredible was very young or even born around the same time Charles Muntz was uncovering what could be “magic” properties. This could even serve as an explanation for why academia suddenly turned on Muntz, shaming him for what we know weren’t fraudulent discoveries. Perhaps this was a ploy to keep his research hidden from the world, explaining why only Americans are shown to have powers in The Incredibles.

Sometimes I get goosebumps when these things fit together a little too nicely.

OK, what about the strange animals mentioned earlier? Well, when we explore the dirigible in Up, Muntz shows off his collection of these strange creatures that are so rare, Muntz doesn’t expect Carl to know what they are.

They range from giant turtles and other aquatic life to hybrid mammal/dinosaurs that are reminiscent of Forrest from The Good Dinosaur. And we can now deduce that in the Pixar Universe, many of these creatures existed closer together in time, explaining why they’re displayed as a group.

Side note: One of the reasons I’ve waited to add all of this to the Pixar Theory is because I’m still researching how these creatures connect to other movies, including the angler fish that looks just like the one we see in Finding Nemo.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

So the exotic creatures from The Good Dinosaur apparently exist across multiple Pixar movies, and the absence of an extinction-level event seemingly provides an explanation for why animals have become so intelligent by the time we get to movies like Ratatouille.  And the movie even provides some hints as to why magic exists in the Pixar Universe, and we now know why said universe is alternate to our own.

Is that it?

Ha, no.

FOSSILS AND FUELS.

Oil. It’s something that Axelrod from Cars 2 addresses as the very thing we get from fossils, which he specifically defines as “dead dinosaurs.” But for whatever reason, the world runs out of oil in the Pixar Universe much sooner than we would by today’s standards.

Drilling the way we are today, there’s probably 50-100 years of oil left, which obviously excludes methods that dig much deeper. So really, we’re just running low on cheap oil.

In Cars 2, the sentient cars are running out of oil, entirely. And this makes sense for two major reasons:

  1. Mankind has a 200 billion population by 2105 (according to WALL-E)
  2. There’s less oil on Earth because (whoops!) dinosaurs died out more gradually.

Fossil fuels bring life to us from dead organisms, and we get a lot of it from extinction-events that compact them for easier extraction through drilling (for the record, my knowledge on this topic goes about as far as Armageddon).

Without the asteroid, fossil fuels are a bust.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

In The Incredibles, technology has progressed more rapidly by the 1950s, likely because scientists are seeking solutions to this energy crisis. Syndrome finds a way to harness zero-point energy, and “human” energy will be extracted by toys and eventually monsters indefinitely. The absence of other energy options like fossil fuels might provide an explanation for why human energy is so important in the Pixar Universe.

Yet in WALL-E, mankind lives in a loop for hundreds of years aboard starliners like the Axiom. They harness solar energy with advanced technology that allows them to avoid the laws of entropy (and you can argue that the machines are also kept alive by the humans themselves).

All this points to a world that figured out (much faster) that it needs an alternative to fossil fuels, which is why humanity is still around hundreds of years after the cars die out.

THE LEGACY OF DINOCO.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

So in the Pixar Universe, dinosaurs eventually die out because the world changes without them. But they’re remembered, nonetheless, mostly because humans have passed down their memories of the once predominant species.

By the time we get to “modern Pixar,” there are companies like Dinoco that use these forerunners as their logo. Toys like Rex and Trixie get played with, just as they would in our world. There are even statues in Inside Out that look like dinosaurs we see in the movie.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

The major difference is that in The Good Dinosaur, there’s a specific “passing of the torch” moment between Arlo and Spot. The symbolism is actually tragic in a way, as we see Arlo giving Spot over to a human family willing to adopt him. Unlike Spot, these humans wear furs instead of leaves and alternate between walking on all fours and standing upright, even teaching Spot how to do it by guiding him. This moment crystalizes the rise of mankind in contrast to the dinosaurs, who are quite literally on their last legs.

After all, Arlo will return to his farm and eke out a pretty humble existence as a herbivore. His family will barely survive, as his mother tells him bluntly early in the movie. Meanwhile, humans are already hunting and living off of the newer resources tailor-made for mammals. Pixar could have easily left these implications out, but instead they shine a light on the important role mankind will take up as the world continues to change.

That said, I suspect there are more mysteries to solve here. We have millions of years of history between The Good Dinosaur and Brave, so you can expect brand new narratives to rise out of those films as the studio continues to deliver excellent movies more than worthy of our time.

WRAPPING UP.

the good dinosaur pixar theory

That’s the long version of how The Good Dinosaur fits within the narrative of The Pixar TheoryBut I hope you’ve also gotten some insight into why it’s so important to the theory, in a way that not even Inside Out was able to accomplish, though it also was quite enlightening.

With The Good Dinosaur, we have firm answers for some of the biggest questions many have come across when digging into this theory. It gives us a reason why everything in Pixar movies is so different and set apart from reality. It alludes to the mysteries of magic with a little help from Up, further providing connections I didn’t think we’d ever get.

And we even got Dreamcrusher.

I hope you enjoyed the movie itself as much as I did. My full review is also available in case you’re not already tired of reading, which you can check out here. You’ve probably noticed by now that I’m absolutely in love with The Good Dinosaur, and the review expands more on all of that.

As for the easter eggs, this movie has proven to be quite the challenge when it comes to finding the elusive Pizza Planet Truck and A113. Peter Sohn (director of the movie) confirmed they’re in there somewhere, albeit in clever ways similar to how Brave managed it. I haven’t caught them yet, but I’ve heard the truck shows up as either a rock formation or an optical illusion from the positioning of several rocks and debris. Be sure to share your findings.

Let me know your thoughts, ideas, and rebuttals in the comments, and I’ll do my best to clear anything up!

Ready for more?

The conspiring doesn’t end here. Check out my other Pixar Theory posts from infinity to beyond:

  • The Pixar Theory – the full book available on paperback and ebook via Kindle, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, or just a PDF. This will cover the entire theory and every movie in the Pixar universe, updated from what you just read.

Thanks for reading this. To get updates on my theories, books, and giveaways, join my mailing list.

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

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131 thoughts on “The Pixar Theory: How The Good Dinosaur Fits In Pixar’s Universe

  1. @JonNegroni: Fin and Dandy, but how do you explain this?

    Also, have you considered that all Pixar movies might take place in Riley’s head? As her dreams? It would explain the easter egg about Carl’s Wedding from Up.

      • Just let her live her fantasy and maybe she’ll stop.

    • Merida and Sofia aren’t part of the theories because Merida doesn’t have a big impact to the theory. For the Pixar theories, Brave is used because of the Witch. In the witches workshop there is connections to other Pixar movies like the Sully carving, the pizza truck and wood itself. Merida is just a princess that could be related to the Disney princess movies like The Little Mermaid, Rapunzul, Tangled and more.

    • How do you explain an amulet that can pull different princess from different times and realities? Oh wait… there you go.

    • Hi there!
      My little sister watches this show and basically Sofia has the avalor amulet, or something like that, that provides magic to her and in times of trouble calls a Disney Princess to help her. It has nothing to do with pixar

    • Why don’t you do a Disney theory which connects all animated disney films. From princess to pee body and Sherman or maybe connect all animated movies ever made. Like paranorman frankinwiniiee nightmare before Christmas tI penut movie to actual animes if you want to explore more theories

  2. I was thinking that the food shortage was caused by the carnivores being reluctant to eat the sentient herb- and omnivores. After all, if cows could talk and farm their own food and such, we wouldn’t be eating them. Because they couldn’t eat the other dinosaurs and most non-sentient animal were too small to feed them properly they came up with the idea of raising herds of mammals, which lead to selective breeding to create larger animals which gave more food. Because the other dinosaur weren’t being eaten they started to become overpopulated, which is why there is so little food that’s edible to them – the only stuff that was surviving were the plants they couldn’t eat. With the loss of the edible plants most of these dinosaurs starved to death, and the only ones left are the ones that learned to farm.

  3. Thank you, your post actually made me like “The Good Dinosaur”. Before reading this, I thought it was, by far, the worst Pixar movie due to various facets, but mostly because of its inability to properly explain various loose ends that are introduced (and including way too many inappropriate and violent elements to a movie that was clearly geared towards extremely young children). At least, now, I feel that the movie has a purpose.

    • I agree with most of that. But why does The Good Dinosaur (or any movie, for that matter) need a purpose?

      • All movies have a purpose, for better or worse. The cynical take on Good Dinosaur is that its purpose is so aimless, it appears to be without one. Of course, I find that to be completely untrue. Good Dinosaur tackles the theme of how parents can both hurt and aid our development as sons and daughters. Without getting into spoilers, Arlo learns this lesson in both the beginning and end of the movie, but it’s hard to catch because those landscapes are just way too distracting.

        • Hey Jon, really admire you for making this, i cant imagine the time you took into this, the times you watched every movie until you hate them, only to create a theory that makes us love them even more!
          I mean, this theory is sooo complex, you make every pieces come together, even the ones who dont seem to fit, you just make them fit!
          Probably you wont see this comment, if you do though, please reply!! And keep on the conspiring!

  4. Hey Jon, what do you think about the witch possibly being the reason that Supers exist? I’ve posted comments on how I believe everything works in the Pixar universe, bringing up points like “The Legend of Mordu” where she offers McGuffin many different powers to grant him.

    Other people must have agreed to this offer (or requested it themselves) and this ended up getting passed down in family lines from:
    “La Luna” ( mystical family with unexplained abilities seemingly passed down),
    “The Incredibles” ( actual superhuman registration exists in the form of the NSA to monitor, train and legally protect any Super in their jurisdiction),
    “Presto!” ( within the period of Supers being banned and having to blend in with society. Sometimes even using powers to do it)
    “Red’s Dream” ( Supers making a comeback stole attention from normals trying to make it in a formerly “Super-less” economy and forcing them to give up their professions [ a clown selling their unicycle] to survive
    “Sanjay’s Super Team” ( Supers are back and popular [ probably some underlying themes from “The Incredibles 2” but can be seen yet] probably will go back to being obscure, as there seem to be no actual heroes in later films)

    • *a clown selling his unicycle

  5. So how would boo fit into the theory of the good dinosaur and inside out?

  6. So I haven’t read any of the comments and i didn’t read all of the theory, however I’ve been following your the pixar theory for a couple of years now and I’m am high fascinated with it. I have a couple of thoughts though. So according to science it’s said that the dinosaurs walked this earth for millions of years. What if at the beginning it shows a funny that they could of died but they still lived for another 65 million years later, then with spot coming into the picture it started with the cave men and neanderthals, thus starting human civilization. Meaning the good dinosaur was set before brave on the time line. I have no idea if anyone else has already thought of this but I was quite proud of myself for coming up with the though and needed to share!

  7. “It’s unclear how humans of the distant future could find a magic tree with fruit that could transform them into animalistic monsters” what if the magical fruit is actually radioactive and that transforms the humans into the monsters. They did say they couldn’t get rid of all the pollution and stuff meaning that the trees and other food sources were contaminated

  8. I found a point that could either not be apart of the pixar universes science way and could be completely false in this universe but i thought id bring it up just because it doesn’t debunk your theory and i think it is important here it is, oil is produced by fossilized zoo plankton and other small micro organisms in the oceans in waters but you could say that those severe storms brought a dramatic halt to their population I don’t know though tell me what you think.

  9. Alright, bro. You have successfully proven that The Good Dinosaur, a “what-if” movie set in literally what is meant to be a fing alternate Universe as Pixar’s way of saying “F you, we’re Pixar. Your theory doesn’t apply to us.” fits into and expands the Pixar theory perfectly. What about Zootopia? Can you explain a movie set in an alternate Universe where ANIMALS are HUMANS?
    lol keep up the good work, man. You’re awesome.

  10. This is GREAT! By the way…A113 can be seen in the fencing when Arlo goes to feed the animals, if you look closely, you’ll see it. Also, the Pizza Planet truck is seen in a rock formation behind Spot, and also at the beginning when the rocks are floating around in space. Thanks! You have NO IDEA how much I LOVE watching Pixar movies and searching for secrets in them! Can’t wait for the “Finding Dory” post! Have FUN! God LOVES ALL of you guys!

  11. What about the idea that the storm is magic manifesting in a way to bring the planet back into balance? This massive output of magical energy could easily be absorbed into some of the dinosaurs which could be passed down genetically through generations (explaining how Kevin’s eggs are able to provide anti-aging properties).

  12. The idea that the bird in Up comes from the weird dinosaurs is more perfect than you may realize. Birds literally are modern dinosaurs judging by our most recent fossil discoveries (with dinosaurs like T. rex suspected to have had feathers), so for that to be the dinosaur’s evolutionary line makes perfect sense.

  13. Do Dino’s also need humans to survive?

  14. In brave we see that fate is something powerful that is hard to escape, the death of Dino’s is their fate, sad but true

  15. Might I point out that birds are in fact believed by the vast majority of the scientific world to be theropod dinosaurs. So Kevin isn’t a dinosaur-like bird, he’s just a dinosaur.

  16. There would be more fossil fuels without an extinction level event because there is more time for the folssilization to complete

  17. I’m kind of confused? You say that the reason some animals are so smart is because they are left to their own devices like the dinosaurs. But in the original theory you say that the reason they’re so smart is because of magic such as the kind the witch uses on Elinor and Morduo. Perhaps I interpreted what you wrote incorrectly? I would love it if you could clear this up for me. Thanks!

    • In the original theory, you wrote the following: “Centuries later, the animals from Brave that have been experimented on by the witch have interbred, creating a large-scale population of animals slowly gaining personification and intelligence on their own.” If this is the case, why are the apatosauruses and other dinosaurs in The Good Dinosaur personified in a similar way to that of Remy, Marlin, and Flik, considering the dinosaurs were personified before the events of Brave and the witch’s magic?

  18. It is us humans in our blinding arrogance, inanimate objects/animals/ dinosaurs become as intelligent as us. Hahaha! They have always been smarter than us. Because they never question their purpose. Smart. Questioning only drives you crazy

      • Agreed humans never think carefully about anything

  19. What is the tidbit about future humans finding a magical tree all about?

  20. Is it possible that arlo is tarzan???

    • What is your argument? Tarzan is an human who acts like an ape. Argo is an dinosaur that acts like an human.

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