‘Good Dinosaur’ sticks to the Disney-Pixar formula

26 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

Production was halted early in the process of making “The Good Dinosaur” because it had some dinosaur-sized problems. Pixar is back in the news this week with the much anticipated launch of “The Good Dinosaur,” a story that considers how Earth might have been different had an asteroid not wiped out dinosaurs.With The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2’s big opening last weekend and a trio of new wide releases hitting theaters on Wednesday, Thanksgiving is shaping up to be a busy five days at the box office. Yet the modest tool kit from which the studio draws for its biannual blockbusters has remained boringly consistent: Anthropomorphize a thing that wasn’t anthropomorphic, hew close to archetypical mythic plotting that suggests a quick skimming of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and tug on those heartstrings with the heaviest hand possible. The studio has been responsible for some really good movies, and a handful of great ones, since “Toy Story” premiered in 1995. “Cars 2” messed up the winning streak a little bit, but the studio still has quite a track record.

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 stuff by Disney-Pixar, household names in big-budget animated cinema, is beginning to strike me as pretty hollow and calculating, devoid of interesting ideas or any sort of emotional heft. “But John!” you’ll balk. “Didn’t you cry in Up when the old man’s wife croaks and whatnot, you monster?” Sure, I did. And while that’s around the time, more or less, that science hypothesizes the dinosaurs bit the dust, the wizards at Pixar have forged another creation story. Katniss and company opened above $100 million but under expectations, and while Mockingjay is the current favorite to win in its second weekend, there’s some uncertainty over how it’ll play out over Turkey Day. In the same way that I may cry during Michael Haneke’s Amour, or at the ending of Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark when (spoiler alert, for a 15-year-old movie) Björk is hung by the neck while singing, or when I get nailed in the unprotected undercarriage with a wicked-fast wrist shot in ball hockey.

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. He lives on a farm with his father (Jeffrey Wright) and mother (Frances McDormand) and a pair of siblings, the only member of the family who has a hard time pulling his own weight, or, in this case, making his mark. Fast forward a few million years to what looks like the American Northwest, where two apatosaurs are farming the land, tilling the soil with honest sweat and giant noses. 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.

They move us because we’re being skillfully manipulated into being moved, and not because we’re coming to any emotional revelation or catharsis of our own accord. 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. The film begins from a simple “what if?” premise: What if the asteroid that is believed to have caused the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event those many millions of years ago skipped the Earth entirely?

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), a hotshot, hot-headed race car, gets stranded in rural Radiator Springs after damaging the road there; he has to stay and fix it. Here, the once-upon-a-time begins with Momma (soothingly voiced by Frances McDormand) and Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) having three babies, who hatch within seconds of one another. The runt turns into a scene-stealer, Arlo (Jack McGraw), a pea-green pipsqueak who, after cautiously tumbling out of his shell, grows into a wee gentle giant. Which suggests that they’ve also developed the concept of private property, which means that they’ve also developed neoclassical economics and hold fast to the tenet that private ownership is an inalienable right, inherent in nature itself.

In this sequel that no one seemed to be asking for, Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) look back on their college days, when they weren’t such good friends. 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. Like a giant reptile riff on The Incredible Journey, the film follows Arlo and his pint-sized Neanderthal buddy, Spot (Jack Bright), as they trek across the prehistoric North American wilds, traversing riverbanks, mountains, fallen forests and plains inhabited by galloping herds of giant longhorn cattle. These include a nocturnal walk with Poppa, who, with his long, agile tail and the help of swarms of fireflies, draws phosphorescent swirls in the grass, a preview of the more visually entrancing passages to come. In one (way too short) sequence that approaches inventiveness, Arlo and Spot eat putrid fruit and end up entering a psychedelic, hallucinatory trance.

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. As rendered by Pixar’s computer processors and server banks, the digital landscapes are meant to be breathtakingly beautiful, but they tend to come across more like very expensive screensavers or immersive desktop wallpapers. 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.

And, somewhat like Bambi, he initially sets off on that odyssey alone after a storm first sweeps away Poppa — a catastrophe that’s blunt and subtle, delivered with panicked shouts and sealed with a merciful cut to black — and then sweeps away Arlo, too, leaving him stranded, frightened and far from home. Yes, it’s ostensibly moving to see a character’s loving parent die (just as it was way back in Bambi), just as it’s touching to watch tearful farewells as new friends part ways or when families reunite. Clouds don’t merely gather, they also boil, creating whirlpools that bring monsoonal rains and swollen waters that defeat leviathans in an instant, as casually as a flick of Mother Nature’s wrist. It’s paint-by-numbers emotional plying – the sort of thing that’s insulting to the young children at whom it’s ostensibly aimed, and should be frankly embarrassing to the adult audiences typically won over by Disney-Pixar’s hackneyed, rehashed dreck.

Creed has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, boasting a phenomenal 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and even generating some Oscar buzz. — 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.

Here, nature isn’t a backdrop or an afterthought, but the main event — a buzzing, blooming wonder from the soft pink of a sun-kissed sky to the crystal waters that Arlo runs alongside and the huge pines that vault over him like a cathedral. — 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. Except that here the boy is a talking agrarian dinosaur, who, after his calamitous separation, encounters a howling, snarling, scrambling, barking, nontalking human wild child who quickly becomes Arlo’s faithful companion whom he names Spot (Jack Bright, a squalling a cappella orchestra of one). At the specialty box office, The Danish Girl will also open in four theaters this weekend, telling the story of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, played by Eddie Redmayne.

Like most children’s movies it offers a lesson or two, mostly about being true to yourself (and the equally helpful message to always follow the river), but what lingers is the beautiful animation that’s by turns painterly and borderline photorealist and, in itself, an ode to the natural world. But Woody discovers how popular he once was, including as the star of a TV show, and suddenly the idea of being a collector’s item doesn’t sound so bad.

After a lifetime of travel postponed, Carl (Ed Asner) attaches balloons to his house and floats to South America — with Russell (Jordan Nagai), a scout stowaway, on board.

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