Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Good Dinosaur

2/4

Starring (voices): Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Zahn, Frances McDormand, Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley

Rated PG for Peril, Action and Thematic Elements

Apart from film buffs, I don't know if anyone can name a film company other than Disney (although considering how wide their fingers spread, I'm not sure if they still count).  But audiences know Pixar, and they know that that name means superior quality filmmaking.  They don't have a flawless record ("Monsters University" was a misfire), but even their weakest films have more merit than a considerable number of mainstream releases.  So I expected something of similar quality as I settled back into my seat with my popcorn, hot dog and Diet Pepsi.  I was unpleasantly surprised.

For the most part, Pixar has prided itself on the ability to appeal to children and adults.  Unfortunately with this film, they have missed the latter audience.  More importantly, they didn't even seem to try.  This is a kid's movie through and through, and while I can find merit in those (I like "My Neighbor Totoro" a lot), it's hard to imagine anyone beyond the third grade enjoying this movie.

Arlo (Ochoa) is an Apatosaurus who is afraid of just about everything.  His father (Wright) and mother (McDormand) are sympathetic, but despite their best attempts, Arlo's fears constantly get the better of him.  But when a chase after a little human (Bright) ends up with them both getting lost, they must rely on each other to get home.

This is pure formula.  It's "Homeward Bound" for the little tykes.  And the 1993 movie isn't the only movie "The Good Dinosaur" steals from.  "James and the Giant Peach," and most obviously, "The Lion King" are also pilfered from.  It is said that if you're going to steal, steal from the best, so I give the filmmakers credit for looking in the right place, but little of what made those movies great is in evidence here.

Pixar movies are such huge hits around the world because they understand that more than visuals, brand names, and franchises are needed to make a buck.  Remember that of the 16 movies they have released, only four are sequels (I'm not counting future releases).  Other studios have relied on marketing to bring in audiences.  Pixar has bucked the trend and made the company name the only thing it needs.  That's because they know the importance of good storytelling and strong character development.

For whatever reason, that has eluded them here.  The characters are stick figures, the voice acting is generally unappealing, and the story is paper thin.  This movie did not have an easy production history, and that's obvious.  It lacks the confidence and complexity that the majority of the other films have.  It's as if the film was undergoing constant rewrites while it was being made, and that's rarely a good sign.

"The Good Dinosaur" isn't painful, but it's close to it.  And that's an unpleasant shock coming from Pixar.

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