‘The Good Dinosaur’ lacks magic of other Pixar films

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.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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).

As bouncy as a ball, with ductile physicality and emerald eyes, Spot injects a lot of anarchic physical comedy into the proceedings and more than a little violence. (He also introduces the concept of shame: Unlike all the other creatures, talking and otherwise, he wears a leafy loincloth.) A hunter and scavenger, Spot has a bite that turn out to be more fearsome than his bark, and soon he’s tearing off the head of a bright, glittering beetle he brings Arlo. (Arlo, an herbivore, is understandably repulsed by this beastly offering.) It’s no wonder that another dinosaur, a delicately designed, mournful Styracosaurus called Pet Collector (Mr. 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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