Friday, December 4, 2015

The Good Dinosaur Review

I, for one, think it's highly interesting that Pixar has released two feature films in the same year. That's a gutsy move when you consider the fact that the two movies will therefore be in competition against each other for Best Animated Feature for the upcoming Oscars. This second Pixar movie, The Good Dinosaur (2015), ended up being above average. It hasn't quite lifted the movie studio out of their slump of mediocrity, but it is a step in the right direction.
Luckily for the young apatosaurus named Arlo, his parents (Jeffrey Wright & Frances McDormand) and his two siblings, the mighty dinosaurs were not wiped out 65 million years ago. When a rainstorm washes poor Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) downriver, he ends up bruised, battered and miles away from home. Good fortune shines on the frightened dino when he meets a Neanderthal boy whom Arlo names Spot (Jack Bright) who offers Arlo help and friendship. Together, the unlikely duo embark on an epic adventure to reunite Arlo with his beloved family.
I wasn't sure what I was getting into with The Good Dinosaur. The trailer mostly boasted Pixar's usual stellar animation, but didn't give us much of a hint at the story. This is usually a bad sign. The last thing I was expecting was a prehistoric western. The Good Dinosaur is structured like a western, but doesn't make it's character so human-acting that it's obviously a western. Arlo's family works on a farm growing crops to keep themselves fed during colder seasons, but they don't have farm equipment per say; they kind of work the fields tilling the ground with their nose, build a silo out of rocks and mud, and they live in a cave; it is still the stone age, after all. Arlo is a farm boy who gets lost after a storm and meets what is functionally a stray dog and the two help each other out as they face the wilderness together. They meet a psychotic cult of pterodactyls who worship bad weather and lead by Thunderclap (Steve Zahn). They also meet Butch (Sam Elliott) and his family of cowboy tyrannosaurus whose "ranch" is full of prehistoric longhorns. Arlo and Spot help fight off a pack of cattle rustling velociraptors. Along the way Arlo learns the meaning of courage on his way home. The story of The Good Dinosaur is a prehistoric frontier survival saga and something of a vision quest. That alone is a neat concept which was expertly executed.
Most kids movies are fast paced, but surprisingly The Good Dinosaur is slower, almost poky in its non-frantic pace. Many Pixar movies hold dearly the values of manic verbal humor and elaborate chase sequences, but The Good Dinosaur favors some very straightforward and classy storytelling which also heralds back to old western movies. There is a profound charm and beauty to the wordless stretches in the movie. Moments like these are when the humor is predominantly physical and the striking prehistoric scenery takes precedence. I could see some viewers (possibly even kids) being put off by this more relaxed pace and the simplicity of the direct story, but I found the straightforwardness and the more leisurely paced film to be refreshing. This isn't to say that The Good Dinosaur is boring or even slow; it just doesn't move at a manic pace nor is it a complex tale. It still boasts some emotional heft to it, even with simple characters like Arlo who is basically defined by little more than how he recoils from and then confronts his crippling fears. Like most Pixar films, it caused me to tear up on more than on occasion.
Pixar has always set an unprecedented high standard for their animation, and this one was no different. The prehistoric background - mountains, valleys, forests, and rivers - are animated with such realism it practically looks like it was shot with a video camera rather than animated on a computer. Yet the characters are given cartoonish proportions and movements which gives the movie an almost surreal quality. The characters are still highly detailed and beautifully animated. Everything from the gentle bob of an animal's breathing to the fluid shifts in Spot's facial expressions was clearly, lovingly rendered. There are even incredibly designed scenes (which I won't detail here for the sake of avoiding spoilers) that make the sky itself resemble shark-infested waters. The animation is positively amazing and is sure to impress and awe.
The Good Dinosaur delivers some incredibly beautiful animation and worthy story. Even if it doesn't quite live up to Pixar's lofty standards, it still ends up being a charming, family-friendly movie. There are echoes of The Lion King, Bambi, and many other timeless Disney classics in this simple coming-of-age story. It is a good movie, but pitted against the previous Pixar movie from this year I'd place my bet on Inside Out for Best Animated Feature. The Good Dinosaur is worth seeing in theaters, and probably worth owning on Blu-Ray eventually. Dinosaur-loving kids will likely love this movie to pieces.

Can you think of another "metaphorical western?" Something that isn't literally a western sort of genre, but has a lot of similarities to it? Comment below and let me know!

1 comment:

  1. Saw this movie just this evening. Sweet story. Wonderful animation. We recommend it!