By: Muneeb Arshid
The beauty of a great Pixar film being released is that it is a respite not only for the kids in the family but also the adults. Since 1995, when Toy Story was first released, Pixar movies have always been noted for their entertainment value but also for their great stories where they tend to inspire different interpretations from children and adults.
Of course, there have been a few iffy movies in their catalog along the way (a la the Cars series, Brave and Monsters University), but as a whole, Pixar is an animation company known for their reliability to provide smart content for all viewers.
Which brings me to the latest release for Pixar, The Good Dinosaur. The second feature animation by Pixar Studios this year -the first time this has happened- after the absolutely wonderful Inside Out. Now, it should be prefaced right away, that The Good Dinosaur has gone through a lot of difficulties during its production, with multiple recasts, rewrites and a multitude of delays concerning its release date, as it was supposed to be released last year but was pushed back. To have the thankless job of being “The Movie” after Inside Out isn’t an optimal situation considering that Inside Out was acquiring buzz about a possible Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. That may not happen now since there is another highly regarded animated feature being released later this month in Anomalisa. Regardless, Inside Out is still a film that is one of the best ever from Pixar and sets the bar high for their newest adventure.
I was very excited to be able to watch a second Pixar film this year and even though it follows the aforementioned Inside Out, I did believe that the movie could do well considering Pixar has taken a spin on a common story that’s been previously told. But of course, the production problems mentioned above that were well known and prevalent served to ultimately hamper this film. The story revolves around the notion that the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs actually missed Earth 65 million years ago and therefore, meant that the dinosaurs did not go extinct. We follow an evolved dinosaur named Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) who loses his way home during a storm and must find his way back alongside the companionship of an unevolved human boy named Spot (who is essentially the “dog” in this boy and dog survival story). You follow Arlo and Spot in their journey home to find their families, who along the way meet new characters and friends that help them out while simultaneously figuring out their own unlikely friendship.
I think I should start with what made this movie so great and that is its animation and cinematography. There is a photo realistic element to the visuals, where it looks like the landscapes have come straight out of the upcoming movie, The Revenant. The grass swaying in the wind actually looks like a valley you would find in the Pacific Northwest or the Prairies; the mountain ranges look like they are The Rockies and the water was as clear as you would find in Fiji or Bora Bora. Sadly, everything else about this movie is quite average. The story is very simple, filled with very little substance for the kids and forgets about the adults that are sure to attend screenings as well. It’s not a story that we as an audience expect from Pixar, where it just doesn’t hit the viewer with its subtlety, in terms of having different interpretations for every member of the audience. It’s simply a “get lost, find your way home” movie involving the characters making friends along the way. This may be a biased sentiment towards the movie since we’ve been spoiled by how great Inside Out was earlier this year, but I do think that had this movie been released last year in the exact same state, it still might have only mustered average to slight above average reviews.
There is this atrocious contrast between the actual dinosaurs and the landscape behind them. The dinosaurs can only be described as being “quite bubbly and cartoony” in terms of their shape which heavily clashes with the beautiful scenery and just wants you to scream out about why there wasn’t a bit more work done on the dinosaurs themselves. It’s not as if money was an issue, as the budget for this film was a measly $200 million; I’m thinking a few bucks could’ve been spared for the dinosaurs.
The characters themselves are nothing special, either. There just isn’t a lot of connection between them. There are a few comedic moments and some heartfelt touching moments between Arlo and Spot, but not much more than that and certainly nothing like we’ve seen previously in the Toy Story series or in a movie like Up. The movie does pass the famous “Kermodian” 6 laugh test, but just barely.
Overall, most of the problems with this film stem from the fact that there were a number of rewrites and recastings, accompanied by numerous delays that combined to ultimately hurt this film. Changing the director from a Disney/Pixar great in Bob Peterson (Up) to a newcomer in Peter Sohn also had a noticeably jarring effect. Sohn does a commendably decent job in telling the story very straight but lacks that special touch. The movie I would’ve wanted to see was the one that was led by Peterson with a cast that included John Lithgow, Bill Hader, Neil Patrick Harris and Judy Greer. Alas, delays happen, which is part of the industry, but the fact that it delayed the movie to follow Inside Out left a bad taste in my mouth and – judging from the muted response of the audience around me -, a lot of others.
The simplest explanation that can easily describe my viewing of The Good Dinosaur was that I was so enamored by the landscape and scenery that I paid no attention to the narrative. Even then, it wasn’t as if I had to work hard to figure out what was going on with the ludicrously simplistic plot. There was a kid watching the movie with his father behind me at the screening and there were a few points where he bluntly pointed out to his dad that the “movie was boring.” To which the father would wake from an apparent deep slumber and just utter a “Mhmm.” That perfectly encapsulates the essence of what this movie was: a “Mhmm” or a “Meh”.
The Good Dinosaur, though tasked with the thankless job of following in the footsteps of the remarkable Inside Out, still should have been able to hold its own, yet did not. It is merely an average film where the ramifications of its numerous changes are very apparent throughout. We, The Film Lawyers, grant The Good Dinosaur a grade of C.