Review: Pixar’s trippy ‘Good Dinosaur’ stumbles

26 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A Great-Looking If Underpowered Adventure With A ‘Good Dinosaur’.

“Dinosaur,” which stars a pint-sized Apatosaurus named Arlo and his unlikely human friend, a much smaller pint-sized caveman, began five years ago with another director.“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” will lead the U.S. box office with about $73 million for the five-day Thanksgiving holiday at 4,175 locations, early estimates showed Wednesday.“The last croc, I drowned him in my own blood.” – Grizzled, scar-faced old Tyrannosaur dinosaur telling a campfire story about fending off an attack from multiple crocodiles in “The Good Dinosaur.” “The Good Dinosaur” is one strange, aggressively gross and dark adventure, featuring a number of frightening storms; some primary characters getting knocked unconscious and/or suffering grievous injuries; creatures eating other creatures — and biting.

Sohn took over two years ago. “I revamped it,” he said, keeping the Apatosaurus (“The long neck guys are our favorites”) and streamlining the story. “It had got away from what was really fun — the boy with this dinosaur. An opening scene shows the fatal rock whizzing by Earth harmlessly; “millions of years later,” Apatosauruses own family farms while Tyrannosauruses herd bison on the frontier. An asteroid gets bumped off its path and doesn’t hit the Earth, the dinosaurs don’t go extinct and evolution isn’t Darwinian but egalitarian—dinos share the planet with human upstarts, except that the big guys are smarter than we are. So I went back to that original idea of a kid who has that hole in his life and Arlo this dinosaur filling it and helping him become an adult through this relationship.” “How do you get through that and stand up to people and say, ‘OK, this is what I am.’ It’s a very scary thing and how does a young kid find his way through that?” “I don’t know what was wrong with me, why I had such an issue with this, but at some point I yelled at her at night, ‘If you don’t stop sucking your thumb I’m going to cut it off!’ “As a father what was I afraid of?

From a dinosaur who bit off the end of her own tail to escape death to grotesque flying killers that chomp at everyone in their sight to a little boy who bites EVERYTHING he can get his teeth on, you’ve never seen so much biting in a movie. In their shadow, humans must have evolved from the Carnivora clade alongside dogs and wolves, judging by how they bark and scamper in the wild unless a dino can domesticate them. As Pixar productions go, this one isn’t a groundbreaker, but it’s heartfelt and endearing, as well as visually splendiferous, and kids will love it for sure. ( Peter Sohn directed from a screenplay by Meg LeFauve.) The best way for adults to enjoy the film is to follow the advice given by a gruff T-rex named Butch to the hero, Arlo, a timid young Apatosaurus.

It sounds silly, but after the teeth-gnashing nonsense of Jurassic World, just be glad one film this year treats dinosaurs with something approaching respect. When Arlo seeks reassurance about the dangers that await him on his journey, Butch says, “Don’t overthink it.” (The voice cast includes Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Raymond Ochoa and Sam Elliott.) Arlo’s journey is a familiar one—an all-too-familiar one, if you’re after groundbreakers and nothing else. And just when you thought Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa had ridden off into the sunset, he’s back with new blood in the form of Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Flash forward several million years, and we meet a lime green Apatosaurus family that has a working farm where they grow corn and even have a chicken coop. (Told you this movie was weird.) There’s the strong and noble Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright, delivering his lines as if trying to out-James Earl Jones’ Mufasa from “The Lion King”), kind and protective Momma (Frances McDormand) and their three little ones: the fearless and playful Buck (Marcus Scribner); smart and sweet Libby (Maleah Padilla) and our hero, the timid Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), who lives in a constant state of hesitance and fear.

It’s about the sweetness of childhood shattered by sudden loss, overcoming fear through a struggle to survive, and the search for what remains of a loving family. The film debuted to a franchise-low $102.7 million last weekend for the fifth best opening of 2015. “Mockingjay — Part 1” launched last year on the weekend before Thanksgiving with $121.9 million. The Good Dinosaur is full of gorgeous mountain landscapes inspired by the American West and voluminous clouds floating against a purple-orange-blue sky.

In Pixar’s latest, a fearful young dinosaur learns to overcome his fears during an odyssey through a peril-filled world with the help of his pet, an unevolved human boy. The family that Arlo is hatched into—as a very little guy peering up from a plus-size shell—works a thriving farm in the Old West, which is to say the extremely old West that corresponds to geological knowledge of how the West may have looked when dinosaurs roamed the land.

Water effects are lovingly detailed, whether the flow of the river that runs through the landscape or raindrops from the frequent storms that threaten it. Disney Animation Studios’ “Frozen” is the record holder for the holiday with a $93.6 million five-day launch in 2013. “Creed,” the seventh entry in the “Rocky” franchise, stars Sylvester Stallone and Michael B.

The humans do not. (Guess we caught up with them a few million years later.) Arlo can’t stand Spot at first, but when circumstances leave Arlo lost and far from home, it’s Arlo and Spot against the world. That’s literally, visually true, as significant portions of the picture take place underground in shadowy tunnels swarming with ravening humanoid monsters.

A quadruped sniffer and grunter rather than a biped speaker, Spot has lots to learn from articulate Arlo, but the reverse is true too—the kid is human, after all—so the relationship deepens as rivalry gives way to camaraderie in the face of storms, rising rivers and squadrons of predatory pterodactyls. Director Peter Sohn and the usual army of greatly gifted animation pros deliver some stunning visuals, in particular some sweeping long shots showcasing the hilly terrain, the raging rivers, the storm-filled skies and the majestic mountains of the era. While hunting a “critter” who threatens his corn-farmer family’s winter food supply, Arlo’s strong, proud Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) meets an early, Mufasa-like fate. The buddies’ adventures are dramatized delightfully, but a case could be made for the movie’s real subject being scenery, and, particularly, water. (Before saying more about this, I should note that I made a point of attending a 3D screening, but unspecified technical problems turned it into a 2D screening.

On the strength of what I saw, I’d bet the 3D version is worth the surcharge.) Water has long been a challenge for animators to depict convincingly, but the water here—rushing, gushing, roiling, gloriously raging—has the emotional force of a major character. When the frequent, treacherous and dangerous storms finally end, a band of ugly, hunter-scavenger pterodactyls swoop in to claim their prey. (They look at Spot and see a snack.) When Arlo emerges from the river, leeches cling to his body. (Make sure to collect all the cuddly “Good Dinosaur” toys and action figures!) Perhaps strangest of all is an extended sequence involving Sam Elliott as a weathered old T-Rex who along with his son and daughter has a herd of water buffaloes. An overly careful performance by Bryan Cranston in the title role anchors the story of Dalton Trumbo, arguably the best-known member of the Hollywood 10 screenwriters blacklisted during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and ’50s.

Any hope that Pixar’s second 2015 release would meet the incredibly high narrative bar set by studio masterwork Inside Out is dashed early on, once we realize the story (which has five different names on it) is almost exclusively concerned with lessons of bravery. For a lavish gift of animation this Christmas season, consider “The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki,” a newly released Blu-ray boxed set of all 11 feature films by the man who has been crucially inspirational to Pixar’s filmmakers. For an understanding of what really happened to the dinosaurs, a splendid source is the physicist Lisa Randall’s newly published book “Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs,” which not only deals with the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction but ranges far and eloquently through our current knowledge of the universe. But dinosaurs — even talking, bright green, sweet dinosaurs — don’t make for the most visually pleasant animated creatures, and Arlo isn’t a particularly strong or lovable character compared to so many previous Pixar leads, animal or human.

The Peanuts gang have pretty much ruled the big holidays, from Halloween’s TV special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to A Charlie Brown Christmas (celebrating its 50th year on air). Director Tom McCarthy gives a look inside The Boston Globe’s investigative team’s expose on child abuse by priests, and the church cover-up that followed. is receiving big time awards buzz for its ensemble cast (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber). The studio replaced director Bob Peterson midway through development and drastically reworked the script, tossing much of the original voice cast (including Judy Greer, Bill Hader, and John Lithgow).

Other awards buzzy films continue to open wider across the country, including Brooklyn, which steps up to its widest national release over Thanksgiving weekend. Increased production demands will lead to less vital finished films, and could threaten early extinction for an animation studio that has become a national treasure. This 1950s tale of an Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan, try saying that with a mouth full of mashed potatoes) finding love and life in a new land promises to be an awards season player. A note on the preshow: The accompanying short this time out is “Sanjay’s Super Team,” a candy-colored charmer detailing a kid’s superhero obsession and his father’s efforts to interest him in Hinduism.

The autobiographical film is refreshingly open about its spirituality and multiculturalism, and will hopefully herald exciting feature-length projects for director and in-house Pixar talent Sanjay Patel.

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