Friday, January 27, 2017

The Good Dinosaur 2015

To say that The Good Dinosaur is an odd film is kind of understating it a little. It's definitely a film that makes some strange choices, and I think those are what lessen it as a film, especially considering that two of them really don't have to be made at all.

It's probably the first Pixar film I can really recall where people asked 'Why?' (okay, I said that with both of the Cars films and I'll say it again with the third one, but I know the answer, and that is marketing). The Good Dinosaur had mildly traumatised children walking out of screenings, some of them didn't even make it to the film's ultimately happy ending.

The first question I asked was why was a film that was clearly an homage to the Western about dinosaurs? The film's explanation is that the meteor that struck the Earth millions of years ago and caused the demise of the dinosaurs, narrowly missed, so the giant creatures evolved to raise crops, cattle and families. Whereas humans did appear, but never got past the animal stage, which is why they behave more like dogs than advanced primates.

My own personal theory here is that Pixar were working on an homage to the Western and probably had included something about the friendship between people and dogs. Before they could complete that idea the dinosaur boom hit (Jurassic World) and Disney wanted something about dinosaurs, so they shoehorned them into the Western concept and made the dogs into primitive humans. Spot, being basically a dog that resembles a person is one of those odd ideas that didn't need to happen. He never speaks and most of the time he moves more like a dog than a person, so why not just make him a dog?

Then there's the issue of Henry, the father of Arlo the central character, dying. This really shocked and upset a lot of younger audience members and it simply didn't need to happen. Here's where the inner writer in me rewrote the film. Basically at the heart of it The Good Dinosaur is about Arlo getting lost and discovering himself and finding the courage to make his mark on the world, while trying to get back home.  The entire scene with Henry falling into the river and drowning simply doesn't need to be in the film. Arlo can run off after Spot when he finds that he's been raiding their crops again and get lost. He can be mad at Spot for getting him lost, he can still have sympathy for Spot losing his parents, just because he still has parents doesn't mean he won't understand what it is to not have them, after all he's completely lost with only the slimmest of hopes that he's ever going to see his family again. Just because Henry is still alive doesn't mean that the farm can't fall on hard times and need Arlo more than ever before, in fact that would give Arlo the impetus to chase after Spot.

The presence of the cattle herding dinosaurs only seemed to be there to help establish the film's Western cred. I still don't understand the vicious, opportunistic pterodactyls, who also more than likely entered the nightmares of young film goers. Again they could have engineered a dangerous, desperate situation for Arlo and Spot to find themselves in without those characters.

Now having said all that I have to take my hat off to the animation again. Not so much the dinosaurs and Spot, who were very cartoony (in fact Spot kept reminding me of the vicious baby caveman from The Croods, another animated prehistoric tale), but the scenery was amazing. I had difficulty believing that it was animated and not simply film stock that they superimposed their animated characters onto. Pixar and animation in general had come a long way from Toy Story in 1995.

The humour and heart that had characterised even the worst of the Pixar films (and there were really only two of those for mine) was largely absent from this one. Audiences tended to agree with my views on The Good Dinosaur. It was Pixar's lowest grossing film ever.


I think they went for strong casting to try and make up for the film's other shortfalls. The excellent Jeffrey Wright voiced the ill fated Henry, which as a homesteading farmer dinosaur was a departure for the actor having previously played roles like CIA agent Felix Leiter in two Bond films and the technical savant Beetee in two of the Hunger Games films.

Frances McDormand's considerable talents were wasted with her playing the rather predictable mother figure as Ida.

Steve Zahn was well cast as the insane leader of the pterodactyl's; Thunderclap. He plays crazy well.

Not really sure why Anna Paquin was cast as a female cowboy T-Rex. Every time she spoke I kept seeing Sookie Stackhouse. A clever move might have been to get Joan Cusack to do this. Would have tied nicely into her voicing of cowgirl Jessie in the Toy Story franchise, and as we've seen Pixar like to use actors they're familiar with.

Sam Elliott as the crusty old patriarch of the herding family was perfect casting. I could just see Elliott in this role, shame that they couldn't find a way of giving the T-Rex a handlebar moustache.

John Ratzenberger played  a cameo as Earl, one of a member of cattle rustling velociraptors.

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