The Good Dinosaur (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, PG)

The-Good-Dinosaur-Movie 75The Good Dinosaur is a bit of a mess, but enjoyable all the same.





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Andy Warhol used to say that his movies were more interesting to talk about than they were to watch. This logic is applicable to the new Disney/Pixar film, The Good Dinosaur, which is the second Pixar film to be released this calendar year (after June’s fantastic Inside Out), marking the first time they’ve released two movies in a year. Not much digging on the subject turns up the fact that The Good Dinosaur had what they call “production problems,” it went through multiple directors, took way too long to finish (note that Pixar didn’t release a film at all in 2014), and generally has the stink of failure on it. Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, it’s hard not to wonder about some things: Did Disney intentionally piggyback this release on this summer’s Jurassic World, like how Roger Corman would do? Why is Disney returning to the land of CG dinosaurs, when one of their less-successful (though still profitable) films of recent memory was the studio’s first in-house all-computer animated feature, 2000’s Dinosaur? Why did they give it the plum Thanksgiving release date, previously held by such winners as Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, if it’s presumed to be a failure? And, if you’re doubting that it’s “presumed to be a failure,” where exactly has the marketing been on this thing? I feel like this is the least I’ve ever heard about a Pixar movie leading up to its release.

Well, let’s get one thing out of the way first: The Good Dinosaur isn’t bad. Apparently “production problems” is not a death sentence in the world of Pixar, as 2012’s Brave reportedly went through the same, and that was a good movie. That said, The Good Dinosaur is far from Pixar’s usual standard of excellence, and far behind Brave, come to think of it; I’d rank it ahead of Cars 2 and Monsters University, but below every other Pixar film. You can probably gather from the blandly-appealing title that this is aiming only to be a blandly-appealing movie; not much is memorable here, apart from the beautifully-animated landscapes, sky, water.

Our main character is Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa for the majority of the film), the youngest of three dinosaur children, who has the disadvantage of being wimpy and a scaredy-cat. His older brother is Buck (Marcus Scribner), whose key character trait is the like of hitting things with sticks. And he also has an older sister, Libby (Maleah Nipay-Padilla), who doesn’t get as much to do as her male siblings. Similarly, Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) is much more of a presence in the film than Momma (Frances McDormand).

This is a pretty generic tale of Arlo getting separated from his family, and then fighting to safely make his way home, learning to stand up for himself in the process; the animated version of a coming-of-age story, basically. But, there are some odd choices that make The Good Dinosaur stand out. For one, the film utilizes many Western tropes (setting, drawl, characterization) for no immediately apparent reason. Two, Arlo has what is effectively a dog, Spot (Jack Bright), who is actually a human; that is, the human is playing the dog role to the dinosaur’s human role.

There are lots of pratfalls to keep younger members of the audience entertained, and as an adult with no children in tow, I found a decent amount to enjoy in the film. Oddly, though, most of the things I laughed at were asides—throw-away jokes, punch-up, etc. The plot, most of the dialogue, the voice acting, etc. veers toward bad; it’s the passing, inconsequential things that you will enjoy. To my irritation (and given the Western theme), this is a film full of “ain’t”s and dropped G’s and stuff like that. (Example, in the form of one of the movie’s best lines of dialogue: “If you ain’t scared of a croc bitin’ you on the face, you ain’t alive.”) And, much as I enjoyed the visualization of the world these dinosaurs live in, the sense of place is confusing—one minute it looks like it’s set in Monument Valley, Arizona, the next minute it looks like it’s in Canada. I mean, it is about a dinosaur that winds up far from home and has to travel back, but any sense of logic or place is lost, if it was ever there to begin with.

So in the end, The Good Dinosaur is a bit of a mess, but enjoyable all the same. It falls into the backhanded-compliment trap: It’s bad when compared to other Pixar movies, but good when compared to most non-Pixar animated movies. It’s worth a watch, and I have a hard time imagining much of anyone regretting going to see it, but unlike the vast majority of Pixar’s movies, I don’t expect that this will be one that I return to much, if ever again. | Pete Timmermann

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