Here we go again, on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I sit and blog about a movie I own. We return to my beloved Pixar with their other film from 2015, The Good Dinosaur. This is in my notes at March 16, 2016.
2015 really felt like "two steps forward, one step back" for Pixar. Here we were, being blessed with two Pixar movies in the year! The first one was Inside Out, which I'm sure we all agree is phenomenal. It just won the Oscar for Best Animated Film, after all. And then we got The Good Dinosaur, which felt like Pixar sliding back into the bad habits they'd established during their slump.
It was already a troubled production. Originally slated to be their summer blockbuster of 2014, it got pushed back to 2015 after it changed directors and some new blood was brought on to correct some story problems. But still, we were optimistic, and when it came out in the holiday season of 2015, I was "meh."
In the marketing materials, they made such a big deal about the dinosaurs having never gone extinct and humans and dinosaurs living side-by-side. But the truth is, that's just there to establish the rules: dinosaurs are the people, and mammals - including the humans - are the animals. And they takes these rules, and actually do a clever twist on Westerns. Herbivores are farmers, and carnivores are ranchers, with prehistoric cows taking the place of cows. I will admit, with Tyrannosaurs frequently being cast as the villain in such films, it was nice to finally see some nice T-Rexes who help our hero on his journey.
Our hero is Arlo, the youngest in a family of apatosauruses. He's quite a neurotic sort, afraid of his own shadow and stuff like that. This begins to frustrate his father, and while they're off on a dark and stormy night to kill the human that's been raiding their silo, the dad is killed in a flash flood. While still grieving, Arlo runs off one day when he catches sight of the human he failed to kill. Arlo, however, falls into the river and is swept far downstream. Now lost in the wilderness, Arlo and the human -- Arlo names him Spot -- are now on an odyssey to get back to the farm.
As I said in my original review, ya know how part of Pixar's marketing strategy these days is to construct a series of shorts showcasing the characters and posting them online? The Good Dinosaur feels like a bunch of those scenes strung together. It's highly episodic as Arlo and Spot have their adventures. Some are cute, like when they meet the styracosaurus who collects pets to serve as his protectors. ("That one is Dreamcrusher. She protects me from having unrealistic goals.") There's the aforementioned scene with the kindly T-Rex ranchers, and Arlo and Spot help them drive their herd and fight off some velociraptor rustlers. And there's the much-talked about scene where Arlo and Spot eat some rotten, fermented fruit and go drug trippin'.
However, I love it when an animated film throws something completely unexpected at me, and every Pixar film seems to do that. In The Good Dinosaur, it's the pterodactyls. We meet them after a storm. Their leader is voiced by Steve Zahn, doing that lovable goofball character he's spent a good portion of his career playing. His team of pterodactyls come off as a search and rescue team, looking for survivors of the storm. But when they start to savagely eat the survivors, this search and rescue team starts to look like a crazed cult, and the ramblings of our lovable goofball leader start becoming the ravings of a dangerous cult leader. It's such an effortless transition that it threw me for a loop. I loved it.
But, yeah. It gets a little lazy. It actually rips off The Lion King when the ghost of Arlo's father shows up to give him a pep talk. That had me rolling my eyes in the theatre.
So, there is some good in The Good Dinosaur, but dude, you can really feel the padding, even at its 90 minute running time.
Oh, and, since this is Pixar, the animation if gorgeous. Easily their most photo-realistic film, with some truly jaw-dropping backgrounds.