‘Good Dinosaur’ all but extinct

26 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Good Dinosaur’ is a wondrous, wacky Jurassic world for tykes.

That’s probably because it’s yet another animated movie about dinosaurs, and one that follows a tried and true children’s movie formula of a young hero conquering his fears over the course of a long, dangerous journey to find their way home. The difference, in this case, is that the hero is Arlo, a young dinosaur, and his sidekick is Spot, a human child, because in the world of “The Good Dinosaur,” the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missed Earth, leading to a world in which dinosaurs and humans coexist. Instead, under the direction of Peter Sohn working from a script from Meg LeFauve, “The Good Dinosaur” is antic and unexpected as well as homiletic, rife with subversive elements, wacky critters and some of the most beautiful landscapes ever seen in a computer animated film. Though those vistas are nominally prehistoric — this is a film about dinosaurs, remember — the animators were inspired by trips they took to the contemporary American Northwest.

Work by multiple writers was cobbled together for this story of a world where the meteor that hit the Earth and wiped out all dinosaurs actually missed. His only companion is the small man-child, who does his best to keep poor Arlo safe and fed, and who provides him with the affection he so dearly needs.

It’s been in development since 2009, a long time even for animation, and though LeFauve has sole screenplay credit, the fact that she shares story credit with four other writers — Sohn, Erik Benson, Kelsey Mann and Bob Peterson (who also has an original concept and development credit) points up how many cooks were involved in this tasty broth. It is ironic, though, that even though Arlo is terrified of everything, there are a number of moments in the film that are very scary for younger viewers, as was evidenced by the screening I attended. So Apatosaurus protagonist Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) is born into a family of homesteading subsistence farmers, constantly worried that the crops will fail and leave them with insufficient food to survive the brutal winters in the shadow of the Clawtooth Mountains.

He gets some warm fatherly advice from Butch (Sam Elliott), a grizzled veteran of the open range who is both a sensitive father and a tough protector. But big-hearted Poppa, given to saying encouraging things like “you’ve got to earn your mark by doing something bigger than yourself,” thinks it will all work out. Of course, there’s nothing actually wrong with that — there are plenty of nice-enough movies about talking dinosaurs out there, after all, many of which children adore. Attempting to toughen up his son, Poppa tasks Arlo with catching and destroying one of the pesky critters who are breaking into the family silo and eating the corn they’re saving for the winter. Voiced by Jack Bright, Spot lives on all fours, grunts and howls rather than speaks and proves a perfect companion for Arlo on an adventure thrust upon him when (spoiler alert for 5-year-olds) one of his parents dies.

As Arlo and Spot travel on their voyage of self-discovery, the fun of the journey is the wide variety of out-and-out outlandish characters they run into. — Pet Collector, a quizzical Styracosaurus (voiced by director Sohn) who is an expert at camouflage and has a whole menagerie of creatures helpfully sitting on his horns, including Dreamkiller, “who protects me from having unrealistic goals.” Really. — The vulture gang, a group of pterodactyls led by the whacked-out visionary Thunderclap (a very funny Steve Zahn), who believes “the storm provides” and wants to eat everything that moves. Most fun is Butch, head of the clan, who tells hair-raising adventure stories with punchlines like “I wasn’t ready for dying that day.” Just killing it as Butch is the veteran Sam Elliott. He began the year with an equally effective role playing opposite Blythe Danner in the Sundance hit “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” and it’s great to see him ending 2015 in the same high style.

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