Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Good Dinosaur - Wasn't Good Enough at the Boxoffice

The Good Dinosaur (2015) Starring the voices of Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand. Directed by Peter Sohn. Screenplay by Meg LeFauve. Produced by Denise Ream. 90 Minutes USA. Color Animated, Comedy, Drama, Adventure

In an unusual move, Pixar Animation released two movies in the same year, first, Inside Out and second, The Good Dinosaur. One was a huge blockbuster hit and the other struggled to find an audience and might even be considered a flop. Such a label is unfair to a film like The Good Dinosaur; while it doesn’t quite have the magic that Inside Out had, it is a breathtaking example of the achievements of computer animation.

The gimmick of the film is that the meteor that lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, misses. Rather than being killed off in an instant, the dinosaurs continue to dominate the Earth. It is a very interesting premise, but the film has dinosaurs slowly (65 million years slow) evolving into farmers rather than simply hunters. Sadly, that’s where the premise starts to fall apart. There is a sort of Flintstone equivalency with dinosaurs managing, without opposable thumbs, to repurpose objects for practical purposes.

Rather than wiping out the dinosaurs, the meteor flies by Earth.

The setting is sort of like a frontier Western, except the settlers are dinosaurs trying to grow crops that they need to survive the winter. There are no Indians, but the main villain here is Mother Nature, which can provide sunshine and also send thunderstorms and floods. The Western theme is played up, almost to the detriment of the film, as buffalos are herded and rustled and T-Rexes are shown to look like cowboys riding horses.

The background visuals are spectacular. I have never seen an animated film that looked so real. Clouds and running water look like they were filmed rather than rendered. The characters are not so realistic, but they really shouldn’t be, this isn’t a documentary about dinosaurs. The PG rating is justified as there are some strong images, an allusion to taking a hallucinogen and a real sense of peril at times.

The backgrounds in this film are spectacular.

The plot revolves around a young dinosaur, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), who is the weakling of his family. He wants to make good, but he is timid and afraid. He forms an unlikely friendship with a six year-old human, Spot (Jack Bright), when the two end up swept away from Arlo’s home by a fierce and deadly flood. Spot starts out as an unwelcomed pest whom Arlo can’t shake, but in time they grow to not only respect the other, but a platonic love develops between them as Spot helps Arlo find his way back home. They each end up watching the other’s back and Arlo grows to believe in himself.

The human Spot moves to protect Arlo as the two develop a close bond.

The Good Dinosaur boasts some heavyweight voice talent, but with the exception of Sam Elliott’s Butch, they aren’t readily recognizable. Elliott is also the only one who seems destined for their role to the point it sounds like it was written with him in mind. Most of the others don’t have much presence or that much to do for that matter. No one’s bad per se, just under-utilized.

While Inside Out told us a story we’ve never seen, The Good Dinosaur tells us one that we’ve seen many times before, or at least feel we have. The twist is that dinosaurs are in the lead roles and the gimmick is not enough to carry the film.

The Good Dinosaur still does manage to touch your emotions. There is more than one moment that pulls at your heart strings and you should find yourself crying or close to tears at least once, if not twice. But there is more to making a good movie than making the audience cry. It’s too bad the story is not as revolutionary as the visuals.

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