The Good Dinosaur reviews

The Original BJ
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Joined: Mon Apr 28, 2003 8:49 pm

Re: The Good Dinosaur reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Thu Nov 26, 2015 1:44 pm

I'm in agreement that there's pretty much no way people are going to view The Good Dinosaur as anything other than inferior to Inside Out. Perhaps in a year with less obvious direct competition (i.e. from the same studio!), its charms might have been more appreciated, and the movie does have its merits. The landscapes here are simply gorgeous, with images that look so photo-realistic it's hard to believe they were animated, and the movie balances the usual Pixar elements (heart, humor, adventure) in a manner that's amiable and entertaining. This isn't something grating like Cars 2.

But, especially compared to the wild invention of Inside Out (and for me, numerous other Pixar movies), the plot feels a bit undercooked. For starters, numerous story elements feel like typical animated tropes -- raise your hand if you think young Arlo is going to have two parents around for long! -- but even key scenes feel derivative from other works -- a late-film moment is virtually lifted directly from The Lion King, for instance. But even on the whole, if the filmmakers had come up with a more impressively constructed plot, that could have gone a long way to making the film feel more fresh. But once Arlo becomes separated from his family, the story settles pretty much into a simple narrative about getting home. Of course, that's the narrative for a lot of Pixar films -- all of the Toy Story movies, Finding Nemo -- but I felt those earlier movies contained far more imaginative developments along the way. Here, after Arlo and Spot fend off the pterodactyls, they have to deal with the rustlers, which to me felt like a virtually identical obstacle -- they even look similar in design. And the encounter with the trio of T. rexes doesn't really lead anywhere -- I guess Arlo becomes a little bit more brave after his experiences with them, but it doesn't feel like it forwards the plot in any hugely necessary way to make the appearance of those characters more relevant than anything else might have been.

Ultimately, we're left with a story without much plot invention, and without any really compelling thematics either -- the movie's emphasis on the importance of friends and family is sweet, but not remotely as insightful as anything in the better Pixar efforts. I think The Good Dinosaur is a perfectly acceptable Animated Feature nominee -- as I said, it looks terrific, and maintains a level of emotional grace that puts it above many of the more hyperactive animated features from other big studios -- but I assume most people will just find the storyline too minor for it to come anywhere close to winning.

Mister Tee
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Location: NYC

The Good Dinosaur reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Nov 18, 2015 8:09 pm

For those who thought we might see Pixar vs. Pixar in the animation category this year, it looks like this will run a clear second.

Hollywood Reporter
by Michael Rechtshaffen

The Bottom Line
Good, yes. But a weak storyline prevents it from being great.

Finally making it to the screen after what has seemed like an ice age’s worth of false starts and creative personnel changes, Disney/Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur emerges as a visually breathtaking work of computer-generated animation that is ultimately unable to compensate for a disappointingly derivative script.

Despite the workable premise, which imagines a world in which dinosaurs have been spared extinction and ultimately can co-exist with humans, the film proceeds to tread an awfully familiar path, liberally borrowing thematic elements from The Lion King and The Jungle Book, among other Disney animated classics.

Following in the footsteps of the truly inspired Inside Out, this year’s second Pixar effort can’t help but feel safely benign by comparison, and although it contains some darker, more intense moments, it will likely skew to younger, dino-obsessed Thanksgiving holiday audiences.

The runt of the family litter, Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) is a timid Apatosaurus who’s encouraged by his father, Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright), to step out of his comfort zone and make his mark in life.

He’s unintentionally put to the test when his dad is tragically killed (cue The Lion King) while helping him pursue the critter who had been getting into their corn supply. Subsequently separated from the rest of his family, Arlo eventually catches up with the pest, a grunting, growling wild boy — or man cub — he comes to name Spot (Jack Bright).

Their tender, largely unspoken bond serves as the film’s emotional heart and soul as they venture out into those gorgeously rendered wide open spaces.

While the rest of the performers, including Frances McDormand as Arlo’s mom and Sam Elliott as a gruff hombre of a T-Rex, are well matched for their characters, there isn’t all that much for them to say.

In his feature debut, director Peter Sohn, who took over the reins from the story’s originator, Bob Peterson, keeps this prehistoric Western amiably engaging. But while there are some lively departures, including a sequence in which Arlo and Spot sample some hallucinogenic fruits, their episodic adventure tends to stick with the road most traveled.

Though the tricky third act that originally concerned John Lasseter apparently remained a hard nut to crack for screenwriter Meg LeFauve and numerous story contributors, the production’s photorealistic naturalism is a true bar-raiser.

Those CG-rendered backdrops, taking their visual cues from Yellowstone’s waterfalls to Montana’s grasslands, bring that custom Pixar cutting-edge technology into an exciting, new, wondrous place.

Hopefully next time the storytelling won’t dwell so much in the past.

Justin Chang
Chief Film Critic @JustinCChang

Serving up a sweet tale of interspecies friendship and a stunning prehistoric vision of the American Northwest, “The Good Dinosaur” is easily one of the great landscape films of 2015, even if what unfolds against that landscape isn’t always as captivatingly rendered. Pixar’s 16th animated feature centers around a boy-and-his-beast dynamic that will strike some of the same audience chords DreamWorks did with “How to Train Your Dragon,” albeit with a crucial reversal of perspective this time around. That largely successful gambit turns out to be the boldest stroke in a picture that, for all its signature visual artistry, falls back surprisingly often on familiar, kid-friendly lessons and chatty anthropomorphic humor. Clever and cloying by turns, it’s a movie that always seems to be trying to evolve beyond its conventional trappings, and not succeeding as often as Pixar devotees have come to expect.

It’s no knock on “The Good Dinosaur” to note that it is neither as ingeniously conceived nor as emotionally wrenching as this summer’s “Inside Out,” a movie it doesn’t even try to emulate; it falls into that humbler category of Pixar efforts, like “Brave” and “A Bug’s Life,” that are content to riff engagingly on material we’ve seen before, rather than imagining an entirely new world from scratch. Marking a solid, graceful feature-directing debut for Peter Sohn (an artist and voice actor on“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and other Pixar productions), this is moving and accessible family fare that should rack up strong global returns in the month or so before the season’s other big Disney release — something involving a star and a war — makes like T-Rex with the box office competition.

At the very least, it’s refreshing to see Pixar churn out two original, non-franchise-based efforts in between sequels (with “Finding Dory” due out next year), even if the movie in question doesn’t always feel like a prize specimen. But then, neither does our hero, Arlo, a runty apatosaurus growing up in a very distant fictionalized past. In the alternate history of Earth set forth in Meg LeFauve’s screenplay, the dinosaurs were not wiped out 65 million years ago by a wayward asteroid — as shown in a sly fakeout of an opening sequence — but instead survived, thrived and developed a remarkably advanced agrarian society, which explains (sort of) how a family of green, long-necked dinosaurs came to own a cornfield and a chicken coop on the banks of a river in what looks like prehistoric Wyoming. It’s a lovely, mildly creepy pastoral scene — think of it as George Orwell’s “Jurassic Farm” — where dinosaurs notably behave just like people: laboring, laughing, bickering, and trying to ensure the best for their children.

It’s jarring initially to hear American-accented English pouring from the mouths of Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) and his parents, Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand), especially since their conversations consist mainly of canned banter and platitudes. Relentlessly teased and outshone by his bigger, braver siblings, Buck (Marcus Scribner) and Libby (Maleah Padilla), Arlo has developed a severe inferiority complex, though Poppa tries to teach him the importance of bravery, as well as proper goal setting and follow-through: “You gotta earn your mark by doing something big.” Arlo will certainly get his chance when a violent rainstorm sends him downriver; he washes up miles from home, battered and bruised, with only a human wild child (Jack Bright) for company.

The runty dinosaur and the pint-sized Neanderthal have good reason to distrust each other at first, and it’s a measure of how adroitly the film has manipulated our sense of identification that we wouldn’t mind, at least at first, if Arlo just finished off the filthy, feral little troublemaker. But the viewer’s sympathies naturally shift as the boy, who tellingly responds to the name Spot, finds ways to help the frightened Arlo, and their antagonism slowly turns to friendship. Crawling around on all fours and talking in growls, grunts and the occasionally well-timed bite, Spot is unmistakably presented as the savage pet in the relationship, a choice that raises some subtle moral and ecological questions about a world where humans aren’t at the top of the food chain. In any event, the characters’ deepening bond is tenderly and touchingly observed, never more so than in a piercingly beautiful nighttime scene where Arlo and Spot find a wordless way to convey a shared sense of sorrow.

The quiet sublimity of that moment may well trigger memories of “How to Train Your Dragon,” though it’s hardly the only animated touchstone that looms heavily over the proceedings. At times it seems that every movie in the Disney critter canon is up for grabs: Echoes of “The Lion King” reverberate loudly through these scenic mountain passes (Poppa is basically Mufasa with scales). And as Arlo and Spot encounter one colorful new species after another, the movie increasingly recalls “The Jungle Book,” another tale of a man-cub and a hissing, roaring menagerie. In the latter respect, Sohn and his creative team have allowed their imaginations to roam free: A salmon-pink cobra with legs and a winged insect the size of a wild boar are among the hostile animals briefly rescued here from cinematic extinction.

A rather friendlier fellow is the Pet Collector, a kooky old styracosaurus (voiced by Sohn) whose amusing horn-aments and deadpan delivery raise the possibility that “The Good Dinosaur” is about to shift into a very different, much trippier mode. (Another madcap sequence, in which Arlo and Spot enjoy some particularly strange fruit, keeps that hope alive.) Unfortunately, the style of humor becomes broader and more funny-accent-driven as the movie progresses, reaching a nadir with a pack of nasty, snaggle-toothed raptors who seem to have been patterned on meth-cooking hillbillies from the Ozarks. Running a close second is a team of hungry pterodactyls led by Thunderclap (Steve Zahn), whose beach-bum-style mantra is “The storm provides” (he may as well be saying, “The Dude abides”).

By the time Arlo and Spot meet an unexpectedly friendly clan of T-Rexes who double as buffalo ranchers, it’s clear that the film means to be a Western throwback of sorts, one that just happens to be set closer to the dawn of time. It’s a charming enough conceit that’s most fully realized in a delightful campfire scene, with none other than Sam Elliott lending his baritone growl to the role of a scarred, grizzled T-Rex showing off his war wounds (it’s probably the one time you’ll find it odd that a dinosaur isn’t chewing tobacco). And it’s particularly suited to the rugged majesty of the film’s scenery: fir-lined slopes, craggy mountain peaks and babbling brooks, all rendered in staggering widescreen compositions with an almost photorealistic attention to detail, and integrated seamlessly with the more stylized character designs.

As our homeward-bound heroes near their respective destinations, “The Good Dinosaur” seems to falter and lose its way — and then, in almost the same moment, to find it again. Its lush, classical storytelling lapses into familiar beats and payoffs, en route to an outcome as certain as the recurrence of Mychael and Jeff Danna’s often distractingly Tolkien-esque score. But predictability can have its pleasures, too, and the film achieves a gentle surge of emotion as Arlo learns his lesson in courage — not least the courage of befriending another soul. Cross-species bonding may have its limits, but there’s no mistaking the beauty in a boy-meets-beast saga that, by the end, has made it hard to tell which is which.

Screen Daily
By Tim Grierson

Dir: Peter Sohn. US. 2015. 93mins

In some ways, The Good Dinosaur is one of Pixar’s most conventional films, telling a simplistic coming-of-age story about a young Apatosaurus on a hero’s journey to return to his family while grieving the death of his beloved father. But that template sets the stage for a mythic, visually resplendent treatment of familiar material, as first-time feature director Peter Sohn wrings considerable emotion from a tale that’s part Western, part Incredible Journey-style adventure.

Geared to kids but sneaking in a few daringly dark moments, The Good Dinosaur may not be among the list of the studio’s truly inspired productions, but 20 years after Toy Story, it’s encouraging to see Pixar continue to tinker so audaciously with its approach.

Sure to be a massive family hit when it lands in theatres around the world from November 25, this Disney offering might skew slightly younger than other Pixar films, which isn’t to suggest that adults won’t find plenty to enjoy as well. And considering that Jurassic World is the year’s biggest money-maker, audience appetite for more dinosaurs could benefit this film, with word-of-mouth and rosy reviews only helping the haul.

The Good Dinosaur starts by introducing its conceit: what if, 65 million years ago, a meteor didn’t hit Earth, ending the age of dinosaurs? From there, Sohn establishes a world in which a family of Apatosauruses (led by Poppa, voiced by Jeffrey Wright) are busy running their farm. The youngest of three children, pipsqueak Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), wants to prove himself worthy of more responsibility, but soon tragedy strikes when a powerful flood sweeps Poppa away to his death. Arlo blames it all on a lone feral human boy (voiced by Jack Bright) who had been pestering the famil, but when he gets lost, only the boy (whom he names Spot) can help him get home.

At first, the film drifts along on its sweetness, establishing Arlo’s carefree world with his doting parents and tranquil life on the farm. Suggesting that The Good Dinosaur means to be a straightforward children’s fable with easy-to-glean life lessons, Arlo is told early on by his father that he needs to demonstrate courage and self-sacrifice to make his mark on the world: words of advice we’re sure will be integral to Arlo’s dramatic through-line.

The narrative simplicity doesn’t end there, though, as Arlo soon loses his father in a tragedy, forcing him to grow up and step out of his dad’s shadow. Even his begrudging friendship with the growling, wordless Spot has a textbook boy-and-his-dog quality to it. (This feeling is helped by the fact Spot acts just like a barking puppy.)

But although the humour can be inconsistent and the plot points a little obvious, The Good Dinosaur mostly transcends the archetypal storytelling by delivering a steady stream of simply stunning sequences. By now, it might be a given that Pixar’s movies are visually spectacular, but The Good Dinosaur may be the studio’s most purely cinematic, the richness of the design and the emotional power of the widescreen compositions stirring deep, almost primal feelings about childhood, the loss of innocence and the untamed ferocity of the natural world.

In part, the film is so potently evocative precisely because the script is so rudimentary, the on-the-nose dialogue and familiar thematic undertones a steady foundation upon which to build a collection of potent, beautiful images.

Somewhat imperfectly, Sohn toys with how much darkness he can introduce in a kids’ film. Beyond the death of Arlo’s father — hardly the first time a parent has perished in a Disney film — the movie is also blunt about mortality, with different anonymous animals and insects dying in matter-of-fact ways over the course of The Good Dinosaur. Arlo will encounter rampaging pterodactyls and treacherous storms, and Sohn gives them enough force to be upsetting without traumatising young children.

To be sure, Arlo isn’t a particularly funny or engaging protagonist. Granted, he’s meant to be an ineffectual kid at the cusp of dinosaur adolescence, but he’s not given the complexity of other Pixar leads. (By comparison, Spot is nothing but a loyal pet, the filmmakers probably trying too hard to make him cutie-pie adorable.) But The Good Dinosaur, unlike most Pixar efforts, seems to be more focused on its milieu, and the animators do such marvellous work it’s hard to complain.

After the nifty, zigzagging action-comedy scripts that have been the studio’s forte, it’s refreshing to see Sohn (along with credited screenwriter Meg LeFauve) concentrate on an enveloping environment that’s far more compelling and magical than the characters are.

Along those lines, the unnamed area where the film takes place, meant to be inspired by the American Northwest, has a stunning photorealistic quality, the wide open spaces, flowing rivers and majestic mountaintops utterly lifelike. Aided by Sharon Calahan, the director of photography-lighting, and Mahyar Abousaeedi, the director of photography-camera, The Good Dinosaur grounds its fantastical story in stunning realism, which makes the image of, say, a longhorn cattle run overseen by Tyrannosaurus Rexes so indelible.

If it’s not too hard to predict where The Good Dinosaur is headed as Arlo makes his way home, the film is nonetheless incredibly poignant, sounding recognisable but still affecting notes about family, friendship and maturity. Credit, too, goes to a nervy score by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna, which mixes strains of country, Native American music and more traditional orchestral soundtrack. The juxtaposition might seem odd on occasion, but like the film in general, it’s proof that Pixar refuses to go on autopilot, pushing its artists into new, and sometimes quite rewarding, terrain.

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