Review: Pixar’s trippy ‘Good Dinosaur’ stumbles

25 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Oscars Playbook: Inside the Animated Features Giving Pixar a Run for Its Money.

This might be Pixar’s simplest storyline since Finding Nemo. It’s a rumble in the playground with the popular kid (Pixar) competing against itself for the first time with two contenders, the comeback kid (DreamWorks Animation) scoring a hit with ‘Home’ and the new student (‘Peanuts’) suddenly popular.What the simple animated story of a young Apatosaurus and a little cave kid lacks in complexity is made up for in glorious visuals, way-cute critters and a hearty amount of sincerity.Since Pixar’s B-level films are far better than their competitors’ A material, there is no question that “The Good Dinosaur” will be recognized as one of the year’s best animated films. The Good Dinosaur (*** out of four; rated PG; in theaters Wednesday nationwide) isn’t as nuanced as, say, Inside Out, but it also doesn’t need to be to get its sentimental point across.

It won’t compete with the profound delights of “Inside Out” as a best picture Oscar contender, but this young boy’s adventure film will hypnotize grade school audiences with its sheer imagination and joy in filmmaking. When Disney-Pixar head honcho John Lasseter decided to reroute the narrative and the approach, Sohn found himself going solo on the project in 2013; well, solo but not quite alone. “The support system at Pixar gives you a kind of confidence to attempt different things,” says Sohn who was in Toronto promoting the movie. “They were all there from the beginning until the end.” What Sohn, Lasseter and friends came up with is a yearning adventure set in an imaginary pre-historic world in which dinosaurs escape extinction and co-exist with humans on earth. That scenario spawns a wild kingdom of reptiles, weird birds and other creatures falling into an Old West way of life: herbivores are farmers, carnivores are ranch hands.

Set in a vast Yellowstone-like terrain recalling the American West, it follows the familiar premise of a likable animal forced to make an epic journey on its own. Well, according to writer/director Peter Sohn and a quartet of co-writers including Meg LeFauve (who also worked on Inside Out), you get a situation in which plant-eating dinosaurs invent agriculture while proto-humans are still hunting and gathering. Together, the unlikely duo – “An odd variation on a boy (Arlo) and his dog (Spot),” says Sohn – escape aggressive predators and violent storms in their quest to find the safe haven of returning to Arlo’s familiar territory. Among them are a 3D version of the iconic Peanuts comic strip, a typically askew Charlie Kaufman-penned stop-motion dark comedy and even the globally recognized Shaun, the adventurous sheep from Aardman Animations’ stable.

His Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand) wants to help him get over his fears and make his mark in their long-necked clan, yet he’s not able. Director Peter Sohn, in his feature debut, piles on anxious physical challenges, rarely finding a bruising hill, rushing flood or high waterfall that won’t expose Arlo to harm or injury. This fits nicely with Disney’s boys-and-beasts theme for the coming year, which includes a live-action remake of the partially animated Pete’s Dragon (1977) and a live+computer-generated remake of the wholly animated Jungle Book (1967). Enter Spot (Jack Bright), an adorably feral boy who initially breaks into the dino family’s corn silo for snacks but later befriends Arlo on his journey home, one that involves helping out a trio of cowboy T. rexes round up some longhorns and avoiding a pack of no-good Pterodactyls.

It’s a long, slow haul between an occasionally brilliant gag, like the Styracosaurus (voiced by Sohn) who calls one of his animal mascots Dreamcrusher for shooting down his over-optimistic fantasies. A box-office hit ($851 million worldwide) and critical darling, Inside Out goes inside a young girl’s head, where five different emotions compete for control of the 11-year-old. When Arlo, the smallest of three siblings, finds Spot breaking into the family grain supplies, his first inclination is to stomp on this marauding pest.

Those lessons abruptly end when Arlo is separated from his home and must cross a vast landscape with help from an unlikely, speechless human friend who behaves like a loyal, none-too-bright canine. Arlo and Spot square off against rough landscapes, raging rapids, bad weather and dangerous strangers, their more adventurous moments interspersed with long periods of silence or, at best, one-sided dialogue from the Apatosaurus.

The U.K.’s Aardman Animations, the world’s most lauded stop-motion animation studio, also has a strong track record at the Oscars, with five wins — four in the animated short competition and one for a theatrical feature. And a few could be pretty intense for the little ones in the audience who are bound to love these two pals the most — things get particularly hairy in raging storms, and there are some surprisingly gruesome moments, too, though they’re more playful than horrifying.

Their trippiest encounter – no wait, second-trippiest, after the time they eat fermented pears – is with a Styracosaurus called Forrest Woodbush, voiced by the director, whose many-horned head provides perches for a variety of creatures that protect him from all manner of ills, including having unrealistic goals. One of its Oscar-winning shorts, 1995’s A Close Shave, featuring its trademark team of Wallace and Gromit, was the project that introduced Shaun the Sheep, the hero of this year’s Shaun the Sheep Movie.

Co-directors and co-writers Mark Burton and Richard Starzak sent the Chaplin-esque Shaun, Blitzer the sheepdog, the Farmer and his flock on a trip to the Big City. And where else, outside of The Flintstones and some of the more fringe creationist theories, are you going to see human and Apatosaurus frolicking together? Sohn was also part of the crew on The Incredibles, Ratatouille (he did the voice of Emile in Ratatouille) and Wall-E before directing a short called Partly Cloudy and the English Language version of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea with Lasseter. Indeed, his instincts and attitude are entrenched in the Pixar way of doing things, which allowed him to relax a bit at one point during the intense Good Dinosaur production. “The story started finding itself,” Sohn says. “They talk a lot about that at Pixar.

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda and featuring a voice cast that includes Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney and Coffin as those gibbering minions, the movie has siphoned up $1.15 billion worldwide. Earlier in the year, DreamWorks Animation’s Home, Tim Johnson’s computer-animated tale about the unlikely friendship between a young girl (Rihanna) and the misfit alien Oh (Jim Parsons), attracted $386 million worldwide. Reprising the original’s Looney Tunes-like animation style, the sequel finds Dracula growing anxious when his half-human grandson doesn’t show vampiric traits.

This year’s GKids lineup includes producer Salma Hayek’s passion project, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, based on the collection of philosophical poems by the Lebanese author. Directed by Roger Allers (The Lion King), the film serves up both a framing story about a mischievous girl and eight of Gibran’s poems, each animated with a distinctly unique look by a different animation director — among them, Academy Award nominees Tomm Moore of Ireland (Song of the Sea, The Secret of Kells) and Bill Plympton of the U.S. (Your Face, Guard Dog). GKids also is handling distribution for Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie Was There, which, like Princess Kaguya, was created by Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, and The Boy and the World from Brazilian artist Ale Abreu. If the animation branch is looking for something different, it need look no further than Anomalisa, a stop-motion tale of alienation written by Oscar winner Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) and directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson.

Featuring the voices of Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan and David Thewlis, the Starburns Industries and Snoot Entertainment production was picked up by Paramount in September and is scheduled for a Dec. 30 limited release.

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