By Jon Gallagher
The Good Dinosaur (Pixar/Disney, 2015) – Director: Peter Sohn. Writers: Bob Peterson (orig. concept & development), Peter Sohn, Erik Benson, Meg LeFauve, Kelsey Mann, & Bob Peterson (story), Meg LeFauve (s/p). Voices: Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Maleah Nipay-Padilla, Ryan Tepple, Jack McGraw, Marcus Scribner, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Peter Sohn, Steve Zahn, Mandy Freund, Steven Clay Hunter, A.J. Buckley, Anna Paquin, & Sam Elliott. Color, PG, 93 minutes.
When I was a high school English teacher, I had certain students from whom I expected exceptional work. I just knew that these few students would blow me away whenever I assigned a special project. On occasion, when they didn’t, I was disappointed. The work they turned in was still top notch, and usually much better than other students, but there was just something lacking, something I called the “Wow! Factor.”
Pixar has always been like those exceptional students. They’ve given us classics such as the Toy Story trilogy, Finding Nemo, Up!, and Monsters Inc. They always seem to find a way to combine a plot driven story with a message with unbelievable graphics that at times seem realistic rather than computer generated. They’ve set the bar high.
A Good Dinosaur doesn’t come close to the bar.
It’s still a decent movie, and way ahead of other animated feature movies, but it doesn’t come close to the Pixar standards. There are many problems.
The first is the premise itself. In all previews for the movie, we’re given a “What if” question: What if the meteor that killed all the dinosaurs had missed the Earth? That’s an interesting question, and one that I’d like to see explored. Unfortunately, they did little to explore it. Instead, they just used it as an excuse to put dinosaurs and humans in the same movie without having critics point out that dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth several million years apart from each other.
It also allows the artists in the movie to create elegant backdrops in what looks in parts to be Arizona, with buttes rising skyward in their magnificence. These beautiful landmasses, of course, would not have been there during the era when dinosaurs walked the Earth; they would have just been forming.
The plot of the movie was nothing new. Arlo is the runt of the litter in a family of dinosaurs. His father takes him out to hunt down a critter (an infant human) that is stealing their winter stores, and ends up getting killed, forcing his son to grow up. Arlo, along with a brother and a sister, try to help their mother keep up the family farm, but Arlo gets separated from the family, then tries to find his way back home.
Along the way, he discovers he’s being tailed by the feral cave-baby, who Arlo blames for his father’s death. Naturally, they become friends (Arlo names him “Spot”) and they attempt to get back home, fending off dangers and other vicious dinosaurs along the way.
There are some themes along the way that are laudable. The importance of family seems to come out of every adventure along the way home as well as establishing itself as the main theme as well.
The artwork in this film is absolutely stunning. There are scenes of a river with its rapids crashing against the bank when one has to wonder if it was drawn, generated by computer, or filmed live. It’s that impressive.
Unfortunately, it seems that Pixar has run out of plots for their films. So many of their movies have the protagonist struggling to find their way home (or to a specific destination), meeting with adverse conditions along the way. They’ve done it with toys, cars, fish, monsters, and now dinosaurs. I guess they figure “why change the formula for success?” to which I’d reply, “BECAUSE WE’RE GETTING TIRED OF IT, THAT’S WHY!”
A major problem I had with the movie was a three-minute segment when Arlo and Spot eat some fermented fruit and “get drunk.” They hallucinate together in what looks like it could have been a bad acid trip from the 1960s, and show very little in the way of consequences the next morning. This added nothing to the movie and Pixar should be ashamed of themselves for including the scene (especially without consequences). It’s hard enough to be a parent nowadays, and tell your kids that drinking or doing drugs is bad, and then to go and have all that erased in three minutes by some irresponsible writers and artists is inexcusable.
Another negative from the movie involves the “roller coaster ride.” In most movies in this genre, the protagonist is presented with a problem, then the problem escalates (the ride up a roller coaster), and is then solved (the ride down the big hill). In between problems, there’s a period of relaxing before starting to climb the next hill.
This movie has one downward ride after another. There’s hardly any room to rest. As a result, it may be viewed as somewhat scary. My grandson had no problem letting his mom, and for that matter, the entire theater, know that he was scared. He spent a good portion of the movie being scared.
I’ll give The Good Dinosaur a C-. I knocked it down a full letter grade because of the aforementioned scene.
I hadn’t planned to see this movie in the theaters. While sitting around the apartment, trying to figure out what to do for supper, my middle daughter called and said that she was bringing her five-year-old son over to see it at the theater in our small town. She invited me to go along. Who am I to refuse a chance to see a movie with my daughter and grandson, especially when she sweetened the pot by offering to bring pizza from a local and fabulous pizzeria?
While chowing down on the pizza, my oldest daughter called and said she’d be headed over for the movie too. She was bringing her daughter (11) and one of her sons (1), so we were having family night at the movies!
Now if you read my review of The Martian, you’ll know that our local theater is in some serious financial trouble. Last night on the local newscast, they said that the theater is going to be put on the auction block later this week for back taxes. It’s been in foreclosure since May and time may have finally run out. When we went, employees at the theater said that they fully expect to be out of work by the end of the week.
In all fairness, everyone else – both daughters and two grandchildren (who are old enough to speak) – enjoyed the movie. The middle daughter was upset with the fermented fruit scene while the older daughter missed the scene while tending to the baby. My granddaughter pronounced the movie “Great!” while my grandson was busy recalling every scene he could think of in a never-ending stream of consciousness that slowed down only long enough for him to take a short breath. One other patron on her way out of the theater remarked, “That wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be.”
The Good Dinosaur will make a lot of money for Pixar. It will be a huge seller once it hits the video market. But as far as I’m concerned, it will rank towards the bottom of the list of the 16 Pixar movies that have been released.