The Good Dinosaur Review

The Good Dinosaur

After a few rough years that saw the release of some of Pixar’s weakest efforts, 2015 got the revered animation studio back on track with the release of Inside Out, Pixar’s most profound and imaginative film to date. 2015 also marks the first time that Pixar has released two feature films in the same calendar year, as Inside Out is followed up by The Good Dinosaur. But does The Good Dinosaur continue Pixar’s regained momentum, or was Inside Out a standalone return to form?

The Good Dinosaur has a simple enough premise. What if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missed Earth? The opening scene depicts the asteroid humorously skipping the planet as dinosaurs look on like a crowd watching a shooting star.

Fast forward a few million years, and the dinosaurs now take on more caricatured character designs and more human attributes. Among these dinosaurs is a family of Apatosaurus: the father Henry, the mother Ida, and their three children, Libby, Buck and Arlo.

Arlo is the runt, considerably smaller, and far more fearful than the rest of his family. Arlo has a difficult time doing even some of his simpler farming and chores. But Arlo is determined to earn his place, and his father gives him the chance by guarding the family’s silo, where they store their food for the Winter.

The silo and its food have been the target of a recurring pest, and if Arlo can get rid of said pest, he will earn his print on the silo alongside the rest of the family. As it turns out, the pest is a feral caveboy. Arlo is quick to sympathize with the boy, and sets him free after initially trapping him. When Arlo’s father grows upset with his son, he drags Arlo on a mission to track the caveboy, but along the way a flash flood occurs. Though Henry manages to save Arlo, he ultimately loses his own life in the flood.

Some time later, Arlo’s fears have been intensified by the loss of his father. When the caveboy comes back to cause more mischief, the grief-ridden Arlo gives chase, but accidentally stumbles into a river, which sweeps him far away from his home. This leads to an adventure for Arlo to find his way back home. But more importantly, it begins a friendship between Arlo and the caveboy, whom Arlo names Spot.

If that summary seems to cover a lot of familiar animated territory, that’s probably because it does. The Good Dinosaur, while charming, is an incredibly safe movie. This is especially true when you consider this is a Pixar movie, and all the more magnified by the fact that it followed the wildly original and inventive Inside Out by mere months.

It’s not that what The Good Dinosaur has to offer is bad. In fact, compared to a lot of animation today it’s solidly good. But it’s terribly predictable and by-the-books. The story can often feel like its leaving checkmarks as it covers many animated tropes. Despite the many cliches, The Good Dinosaur features two aspects that help keep it afloat.

The Good DinosaurThe first of these aspects are the characters. Though it’s far from Pixar’s most fleshed-out cast, The Good Dinosaur features a number of characters who Arlo and Spot come across during their adventure that leave their mark. From a cowboy tyrannosaurus, a group of pterodactyl zealots, and a superstitious styracosaurus, the film frequently introduces new characters for Arlo and Spot to interact with. It’s a colorful parade of characters, and at the heart of it all are Arlo and Spot. Arlo is a character kids can easily identify with, while Spot, who acts like a dog and only speaks in grunts and howls, is a scene-stealer. And the relationship between the two is heartwarming.

The other standout aspect is the animation itself. The characters continue Pixar’s preference for exaggerated and cartoony character designs, and it’s all the more charming for it. But the film’s scenery and locations are built on a greater sense of realism than Pixar has ever attempted. You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking Pixar simply placed their animated characters in live-action settings. The environments look that real. The water effects in particular being the most realistic I’ve seen in animation.

The Good DinosaurVisually speaking, The Good Dinosaur is a beautiful film. And character-wise, it’s charming and sweet. Children will probably love it. But audiences who are old enough to remember all the animated films it borrows narrative elements from may feel like it’s simply treading familiar ground. Perhaps the film’s troubled production meant that Pixar needed to salvage the it quickly, and fell back on familiar tropes to finish the film on time.

Whatever the reason, The Good Dinosaur, despite its merits, is one of the weaker films in the Pixar canon. On the bright side, Pixar’s stellar track record means that even most of their lesser films are enjoyable, and The Good Dinosaur is no different. On the downside, Pixar’s return to their former glory may have been a one-time deal with Inside Out, and releasing The Good Dinosaur relatively soon after Inside Out only makes The Good Dinosaur’s shortcomings all the more apparent.

The Good Dinosaur falls back into lesser Pixar territory. For younger audiences, it may be fun while it lasts. For everyone else, it feels like treading all too familiar ground, with little to make up for it.

 

5

Sanjay’s Super Team Mini-Review

*Sanjay’s Super Team will play ahead of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur.*

 

Sanjay's Super Team

Sanjay’s Super Team is easily the most personal of all of Pixar’s short films. It might also be one of their best.

Written and directed by Pixar animator Sanjay Patel, the short is based on Patel’s childhood experiences of his American cultural interests butting heads with his family’s Hindu traditions.

Sanjay's Super TeamThe short film depicts a young boy – similarly-named Sanjay – trying to watch his favorite super hero program on TV, while his father takes part in a daily prayer. But when Sanjay’s TV time gets too loud and distracting, his father turns the TV off, wishing for his son to join him in prayer. Sanjay joins his father, but like any kid, his mind is easily distracted by thoughts of super heroes and the like. And soon his prayer turns into a daydream where the Hindu gods take on roles like super heroes.

The setup is really simple, but it makes for a touching story about a father and son making a spiritual connection that, despite the cultural differences, finds a middle ground between the two. It’s also interesting to see a Pixar short that’s overtly based on the life of its creator (the opening humorously reads it’s “mostly” based on a true story).

It also turns into a rather eye-catching piece of animation. The character designs for Sanjay and his father are more caricatured than what you see in Pixar’s feature films. And once the Hindu gods start battling a genuinely menacing demon, it really takes on a unique visual look. Not to mention it also uses camera angles to great effect, as they emphasize the action in a way that outdoes most of the Marvel super hero movies we see today. I might even say the action scene outdoes them too.

Sanjay's Super TeamBut it’s ultimately the simple, personal story that makes Sanjay’s Super Team a unique and terrific entry in Pixar’s canon of short films. Even at just seven minutes, it manages to give that story a good dose of heart and embrace a culture in a way that you don’t see too often in mainstream animation.

Between Lava, Riley’s First Date? and now Sanjay’s Super Team complimenting Inside Out and the upcoming The Good Dinosaur, 2015 may be Pixar’s best year in both the feature film and short film fronts. And that’s saying something.

Thoughts on Disney and Pixar’s Upcoming Animated Films

Zootopia

I recently attended Disney’s D23 expo, and one of the events’ biggest highlights was, of course, the panel for Disney and Pixar’s upcoming slate of animated films. This particular panel was hosted by none other than John Lasseter himself, and some high points included a preview showing of Riley’s First Date?, an appearance by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who will be voicing a character in Disney’s Moana) and some greatly hilarious scenes from the upcoming Zootopia. Here are some thoughts on the Disney and Pixar movies shown at the panel. Starting with Disney. Continue reading “Thoughts on Disney and Pixar’s Upcoming Animated Films”