Pixar is known for their attention to even the smallest detail in their stories. They are always are looking for ways to thwart our expectations. They go out of their way to show us things we’ve never seen before — or to show us things we know well, but from a different point of view. Every film they make brings audiences of all ages together on unforgettable journeys.
But what if they didn’t do any of that?
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with The Good Dinosaur. It is a well made, and well told film. The problem with the movie, if you can fairly call it that, is that it feels like it was made for children. Again, there is nothing wrong with a studio making a film solely for children. And, again, The Good Dinosaur is a well made and well told movie… for children. In fact, this is exactly the film you would imagine a powerhouse like Pixar making if they were to create a film aimed exclusively at children.
The problem is Pixar doesn’t make movies aimed exclusively at children. It probably isn’t too far off base to assume that some of Pixar’s biggest fans are adults. (Some of whom have maybe even gone as far as to name one of their children after a Pixar founder…) And for those fans there really isn’t a lot to get excited by story-wise here. Pixar often speaks of their mantra: “story is king”. But here the story is either non-existent or too-often told. The plot is a very basic, almost bare-bones, coming-of-age road trip about a young dinosaur who doesn’t fit in having to make his way back to his family after getting lost after the death of his father. Other than the word “dinosaur” in that last sentence, how many times have you heard a story with those elements? For adults: a lot. Fortunately for them, young children have fresher ears so the plot won’t seem as derivative to them.
For the rest of us, I hate to throw out the word “disappointment”, because it is a little too strong. But Pixar has had such an amazing track record of thrilling, awing, and delighting audiences of all ages, that something like this is a let-down. Here’s what it feels like: My family is going to Walt Disney World the first week of December. Because of the money we will be spending on this trip, I’ve warned our kids that Christmas will be a little lighter on presents this year — a fact they are fine with since they were told in advance. But what if I hadn’t warned them and on Christmas morning they awoke to a pile of presents punier than they were anticipating? How would they feel? Going into a new Pixar film is almost like going downstairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa has left under the tree. But for whatever reasons (which don’t really matter) Pixar has decided to make a smaller in scale movie aimed at kids rather than the epic we usually get… without warning us. “Disappointment” is too strong, but it is pretty close.
All that said, people going in after reading a review like this may have a much better experience. In fact, imagine if Pixar had spent the past month or two promoting this as a film they lovingly crafted specifically for the younger set. Us older folks would have went in with the correct perspective and probably enjoyed it a lot more. (Though I admit from a marketing point of view worried about the box office bottom line, that would probably be a horrible idea!)
While the story may be unambitious and unoriginal, the animation is anything but. Pixar’s latest is visually stunning. The artists have made an almost photorealistic world and populated it with caricatured characters. The gorgeous backgrounds are scene-stealing. These are in stark contrast with the almost cartoon-y dinosaurs. While some of the designs were interesting and unique, others were a little too boring. However, the decision to not go realistic with the characters was exactly the right one. Special recognition to the designer of Spot, the human character. His look and the way he moved were extremely funny and wonderfully unexpected.
The score by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna may not be as as “in-your-face” as those by Randy Newman and Michael Giacchino, which for this film is not a bad thing. The subtle score fits in perfectly with the beautiful imagery. You might not walk out humming the music, but during the film itself you’ll love it and appreciate the way it accentuates what’s on screen.
The voice acting, while not really terrible, was not really great either. Raymond Ochoa was fine as Arlo. Anna Paquin, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Zahn, and John Ratzenberger are so unmemorable that they could have been changed out with other actors without the film losing anything. Sam Elliott as a Tyrannosaurus rancher is the only actor who gives his character any life — though that character is just Sam Elliott playing Sam Elliott.
Again, there is nothing that wrong with The Good Dinosaur — if you consider it a children’s movie. In fact, it’s a wonderful little film that should have a very long life with that audience. But for the rest of us expecting something
meteor meatier from Pixar, the story here is just too ordinary and uninspired.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?