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Entries in Good Dinosaur/The [2015] (1)

Tuesday
Dec082015

The Good Dinosaur (2015)

Destined for Goodness

Pixar's announcement that it would release two animated features in 2015 (a first for the studio), was met with both joy and skepticism. The House that Lightyear Built is famous for taking its time, for pushing the boundaries of animated realism and plumbing the depths of emotional honesty so thoroughly that their annual offerings are heralded as "instant classics", just about every time. With Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur debuting five months apart, fans wondered if Pixar had doubled the magic or split it.

Sadly, director Peter Sohn and writer Meg LeFauve (who worked on the story with Sohn and several others) turned in a film that feels like Disney's Greatest Hits, mixed with Pixar's Wonkiest Risks, and conceived as an unofficial Flintstones prequel/Croods crossover. The movie's a mess and a chore that somehow manages to achieve the studio's trademark tear-jerk, thanks in large part to composers Jeff and Mychael Danna.

Sixty-five million years ago, the Texas-sized asteroid that was supposed to wipe out Earth's dinosaurs missed our planet by a hair. This allowed all manner of ancient creatures to evolve into sentient, talking creatures with motives, emotions, and a penchant for farming. Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the runt of his family's three-egg litter, and he spends his childhood earning the right to make his mark on the world--literally working for his father's (Geoffrey Wright) approval to leave a muddy paw print on the family's stone-forged food silo. Poppa is encouraging but impatient, Momma (Frances McDormand) is cartoon-Mom caring, and siblings Buck (Marcus Scribner) and Libby (Maleah Nipay-Padilla) are just bratty enough to push Arlo away from home.

While chasing a feral human child who'd broken into the family's corn stores, Arlo and Poppa get caught in an awful storm. Poppa pushes Arlo out of the path of raging floodwater before doing his best Mufasa impression. Lost, wet, and hungry, Arlo wanders the wild in search of the river he hopes to follow back to the three-peaked mountain near his home. He's accompanied by the child he'd been pursuing, whom he names "Spot" (Jack Bright, acting strictly in screams and drooling hisses). The two become reluctant buddies, of course, and must deal with vicious flying scavengers, murderous raptors, and a trio of kindly Tyrannosauruses.

The Good Dinosaur suffers from a lack of vision. On one hand, it wants to be a New Century Land Before Time, with cute and quirky dinos learning about courage on their perilous journey home. On the other hand, Sohn and company want their story to be artsier than that, or Pixar Important, which is why we get looooong stretches of silent, physical comedy between Arlo and Spot, and numerous Tree of Life-style visual pondering that showcase the background and environmental strides at the expense of forward plot momentum. During these slog pockets, we realize just how whiny Arlo is, just how similar his story is to Finding Nemo, and just how difficult it must have been for the geniuses behind Wall-E to make a half-silent animated film that entertained and enlightened its audience. The non-verbal acting and action here are quite nice, but then Arlo starts complaining, or random gangs of Playskool-designed dinos show up talking in redneck accents for some reason--and I just wanted to mute the whole thing.

With Inside Out, Pixar delivered one of the year's very best films. It is a celebration of our untapped intellectual potential (literally and in terms of meta-narrative), which scatters the studio's formula across a landscape of ideas and insights that their creative teams could explore exclusively for several decades. The Good Dinosaur is Pixar's primordial primer, a lizard-brained entry point aimed squarely at kids who've never been on the Pixar journey. Parents, who rightfully expect more than "just a kids' movie" out of the experience, may be disappointed, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn of mass flashbacks to the studio's lesser entries like Cars and Cars 2--which, strangely, can now officially be considered the Good Old Days of sub-par Pixar.