Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Same Old Journey Home: The Good Dinosaur

The Good: Decent voice work, Animation is fine
The Bad: Dull plot, Exceptionally predictable character arc, Unclear market
The Basics: The Good Dinosaur tries to impress with its audacious initial concept, but tells an incredibly familiar story in an awkward way.

When it comes to animated Disney movies, it takes a lot to impress me these days. While I have softened to Frozen (reviewed here!), my naturally critical nature of Disney animated films is not unwarranted. Disney has taken to creating its animated films using a formula that tries to find the right blend between celebrity, style and merchandisable elements; story is not at the forefront of their multibillion dollar empire. My wife, however, is a big fan of animated Disney films and today, she was excited for us to finally see The Good Dinosaur.

All I knew about The Good Dinosaur going in was that it was predicated on bad science and it looked like the propaganda from The Creation Museum (which features humans interacting with dinosaurs as part of the Biblical literalists' denial of geological evidence). Having now seen the film, it's hard not to wonder just who Disney and Pixar were attempting to market the film to. After all, the plot and character arcs are so amazingly predictable that only a child would be entertained by it, but The Good Dinosaur also includes dialogue about one character's fight with crocodiles where he drowned one of his adversaries in his blood, so . . . the film has moments of being too gruesome for the exact demographic that might enjoy it.

Opening sixty five million years ago, The Good Dinosaur immediately establishes its premise; the asteroid that was on course to crash to Earth and create the extinction level event that wiped out the dinosaurs misses Earth. A million years later, dinosaurs and humans live on the same planet. Poppa and Momma eagerly watch their three eggs hatch and they suddenly have Buck, Libby, and the runt of the litter, Arlo. Poppa builds a silo to store grain for the coming winter and Momma plants the fields, so as a source of pride, they put their prints on the silo. For each significant event, the family members are allowed to put their prints upon the silo. Sadly, Arlo is afraid even of the birds he has to feed. One day, while Poppa is taking him on a hike, giving him a pep talk, the river floods. It washes away Poppa and Arlo gets washed far away from home.

Regaining consciousness and realizing he is entirely lost, Arlo finds himself in the company of a young boy. The boy latches onto him like a lost puppy and when he feeds Arlo berries, the two bond. When Arlo encounters a friendly dinosaur covered in protective animals, Arlo protects the boy and names him Spot. Arlo and Spot begin the treacherous journey home, encountering terrifying pterodactyls and a family of Tyrannosaurus Rex's along the way.

The Good Dinosaur is an unfortunate mix of simplistic and violent, despite the movie being filled only with talking animals (the humans do not speak in it). The film is high on the spectacle factor, but low on substance. Unfortunately, while it is possible to do something that falls within that criteria well - building a mood piece or tell a particularly complex character journey using an internal sense of conflict as opposed to an external narrative - The Good Dinosaur is not that kind of film. Instead, it is a remarkably simple and direct journey home for the dinosaur Arlo and the human Spot.

There is no real conflict or surprise; The Good Dinosaur tells such a straightforward narrative that even young children are likely to see exactly where the film is going from the outset.

Pixar does its usual great job with the animation, but given how I've become somewhat obsessed with playing Star Wars Battlefront the last few months, it is hard for me to be overly impressed by computer graphics in films now. Pixar set the standard early and it maintains that standard, but video game designers are working at the same level (or better) for creating realistic environments and characters each day.

The voice acting in The Good Dinosaur is good. Child actor Raymond Ochoa provides the performance for Arlo and his is the dominant voice in the film. He does fine emoting to portray the dinosaur and he is surrounded by a good support cast, including Sam Elliott, Jeffrey Wright, Anna Paquin, Frances McDormand, and Pixar's omnipresent John Ratzenberger.

Ultimately, The Good Dinosaur is a lackluster film dressed up fairly nicely.

For other works with Sam Elliott, please visit my reviews of:
Did You Hear About The Morgans?
Ghost Rider
Thank You For Smoking
The Big Lebowski


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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