The Good Dinosaur Review

Posted: December 9, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

The_Good_Dinosaur_UK_PosterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

It seems for the last few years, people have been writing the “decline of Pixar” narrative. After capping off an excellent run with the highly loved Toy Story 3, Pixar followed up with what is easily their worst film; Cars 2. This was a huge low for Pixar, not just because it was a terrible film (which it certainly was) but because it seemed a sell-out move. Audiences didn’t really want a sequel to Cars, and based on the final product it didn’t seem like the creators had any passion for it either. Rather, it seemed out if a decision born to capitalize on the insane profits made on Cars merchandise. Given the artistic credibility the public perceived in Pixar, this was a pretty big deal. The company has never sunk that low since, but one can still feel the damage it had. Their next film, Brave, may have one the Animated Feature Oscar, but the animated film that really resonated that year was Wreck It Ralph. On top of that, their next batch of films on the way consists of more sequels, including Finding Dory, The Incredibles II, Toy Story 4 (ludicrous given the perfect ending the third film provided), and fucking Cars 3. As someone who grew up loving Pixar and who has continued to admire their creativity, this current slump is certainly underwhelming. Still, 2015 offered hope, as Pixar would be releasing two original IPs; Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. Inside Out was, of course, a pretty massive success and a return to the critical praise of Pixar’s golden era. The question now is whether or not their second effort this year can capture that same magic.

The basic premise of The Good Dinosaur is simple; what would have happened had the asteroid that many scientists suspect is responsible for the dinosaurs’ extinction not hit Earth? Well, apparently after a few million years, they learn how to cultivate land, build homes, and eat food. The film follows a pair of Apatosauruses (voiced by Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand), and their children; Buck (Marcus Scribner), Libby (Maleah Padilla), and Arlo (Raymond Ochoa). Of the three, Arlo is clearly the runt. He’s much smaller than his siblings and is petrified by virtually everything he sees. His father is confident he’ll grow out of this phase, but slowly loses his patience and begins to push Arlo. This sets Arlo on a path of self-discovery and adventure.

What first intrigued about The Good Dinosaur is the idea of exploring a world where dinosaurs continued to evolve and exist on Earth, but the film doesn’t really do much with that idea. All they really have is a sort of Old West parable where dinosaurs are either farmers or cowboys. That’s not a terrible idea I suppose, but it feels a little underdeveloped and the filmmakers don’t do enough to really push that. Outside of that, we only get a sense of a few very specific dinosaur characters, such as Arlo and his family, and the dynamics aren’t very fleshed out or interesting. When I think about how neat the worlds are in movies like Monsters Inc or The Incredibles (films which also have really fleshed out relationships) this just seems lacking. The Good Dinosaur just doesn’t have a lot going on. Even the plot is your basic “fearful character proves himself” story we’ve seen in endless kids films by now.

The film’s simple story also ties into another major problem I had with it and that the whole work is simply too kiddie. I’m sure that sounds like an asinine criticism (this is a kids movie after all), but the beauty of Pixar is their ability to write storylines and humour that can appeal to older audiences. This isn’t typically done through more “adult” jokes, but through clever writing. That isn’t the case here. The comedy is, by and large, intended solely for younger kids and has such was never going to appeal to me. And yet, even that isn’t entirely true, as the film does have a bizarre joke which essentially implies Arlo and his friend are getting high, or a somber scene later on where two characters bond over their dead parents. I’m not seeing these moments or vulgar or distasteful, it just feels strange that the film would commit so strictly to children only and then feature moments like that.

I will say this; as a technical showcase, The Good Dinosaur is extremely impressive. The backgrounds are very striking. I’m not sure if it’s because they were working with simpler, natural landscapes, but the CGI here is amazing. The detail is so vivid and lifelike it genuinely does look real at points. However the technically strong animation is almost something of a disservice. While the backgrounds look highly realistic, the character models are so exaggerated and cartoony that it shatters the illusion. You find yourself looking at this wonderfully well-realized field or waterfall, and then being pulled out by a design that looks like it’s from The Croods.

I opened this review by taking about the contemporary state of Pixar, which in retrospect might have been a mistake because this doesn’t really feel like a Pixar movie. It doesn’t have the comedy, creativity, or genuine warmth that permeates through most of their films. Anyway, I wouldn’t say I hated The Good Dinosaur necessarily. I don’t find it offensive or steeped in stupidity like Cars 2, and it’s also probably a film that will work for kids, but as an adult, this just didn’t work for me. The storyline is too basic, the premise not effectively explored, and the humour fell flat almost uniformly. The film does have some great animation, and even an effective scene involving a particular strange dinosaur (voiced by film director Peter Stohn), but that isn’t really enough.

D+

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