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While I was defiantly looking forward to this film, I did go into the theater with some trepidation. I did look at a few reviews before seeing it, and while there were many positive reviews for the movie, there were quite a few people who were quite disappointed in it. Some went as far as saying this is one of Pixar’s weakest films. So going into the movie, I did set myself up for this film to just be one of those ‘blah’ experiences, even if I still wanted it to be good. And after seeing it, all I’ve got to say is….really critics? Did we see the same movie? This is far from Pixar’s weakest effort. I wouldn’t even dare call it a weak effort. I legitimately loved this movie. I liked it a heck of a lot more than I thought I would, even with the story problems that are admittedly present. But personally, I liked this movie more than Inside Out.
Now, hear me out. I’m not saying I disliked Inside Out, I loved. And I’m not saying The Good Dinosaur is among the best Pixar films, it’s not really. And personally, I have a feeling Inside Out will be remembered more in the years to come and The Good Dinosaur will be one of those films you remember when talking about the Pixar movie slate as a whole. But all that aside, I still freakin’ loved this movie. And maybe my opinion of it will change as time goes on (as of writing this part of the review I have only seen it a few hours ago) but as of now I’m going to praise the heck out of this movie.
Now, before I go into the movie, first I want to talk a bit about the short that proceeded it, Sanjay’s Super-
Team. It’s about a young Indian American boy who prefers American superhero pop culture over his father’s religious traditions, but then goes on to imagine the gods of the Hindu faith as an awesome superhero team.
Now, I live in Texas, and the theater was full of lower middle class white families. I won’t lie that a part of me feared that the parents may look at this short in disgust at the fact that it dares to show a different culture other than Christianity to a naive and easily mislead American youth and that it has the gall to present an alternate religion in a way other than the pagan foreign filth than it is. But such thinking would be hypocritical of me, and it would have made me no better than the xenophobes that would actually try to boycott this short (which I’m sure do exist). For the most part, the audience did seem to enjoy it, although I still feel a bit of cringe when I hear people in the audience confused that this isn’t the movie they went in for and wondering if they went into the wrong theater. Come on guys, every Pixar film and most of the recent Disney films have had a short in front of them, you still get surprised when this happens?
As for the short itself, I thought it was incredible. The animation was incredibly fluid and stylistic, particularly in the fantasy sequences. I can honestly say I haven’t seen a CGI short that looks quite like this. But personally, my favorite part was actually the underlying message of the whole thing. The story is really about the disconnection between two cultures; that of a boy raised under the American society, and his father who still takes his heritage seriously. You can tell that this is a story very true to the director Sanjay Patel’s childhood, and is definitely one that will resonate with both the children and parents of immigrant and multicultural families (including myself).
Alright, let’s get to the movie itself. The film stars Arlo, a young sauropod dinosaur who is the youngest and smallest member of his family. Yeah, this ‘runt of the litter’ type of main character is something we’ve seen in several family films before (especially family films) so I can see why some people feel this movie is a bit derivative. But personally, I really like the direction they went with Arlo. Remember that when the film was first in production Arlo was supposed to be an adult, but this was changed when it was felt that the audience would feel more sympathy for a child who was all alone in the wilderness. Now, I’m just speculating here, but perhaps the earlier drafts of the film didn’t quite give enough reason for us to care about Arlo, so his character was completely redone. Despite a young sauropod being alone in the wilderness being quite similar to The Land Before Time, I have a feeling the change was for the better. Than again, I didn’t read the original script, so IDK.
The sauropods are shown living as farmers in an agrarian sort of lifestyle. Now, another common criticism this movie gets is that the movie doesn’t take advantage of the idea it is trying to sell; the question of what would happen if dinosaurs never went extinct. I’ve seen some reviews just straight up say that this movie could have just taken place in actual dinosaur times and nobody would be able to tell the difference. What do I say to this criticism?
First off, I think when people first heard the synopsis for this film they pictured dinosaurs evolving into making grand civilizations or talking on cellphones or stuff like that, and the fact that the dinosaurs didn’t develop to that level felt like a waste to them. But one of the reasons I love this film so much is that the way it shows how the dinosaurs and the world have changed since the Mesozoic is very clever and often quite subtle. It doesn’t spell out the differences to the audience, but when you look for them they are there.
First off, we have to remember that the talking dinosaurs in this movie aren’t like the talking animals we see in other Pixar movies (Finding Nemo, Ratatouille) where animals only talk amongst themselves and humans can only hear incoherent squeaking or squawking. These dinosaurs are fully sentient in every sense of the world, on the same level as modern humans. They build structures, have customs, and are on the top of the world intelligence wise. The fact that they have mastered the concepts of agriculture, ranching, and construction shows that they are not ordinary dinosaurs.
But there are also clues in the environment depicted. The world the characters inhabit looks very much like modern day Western North America, not the North America of the Mesozoic. Many of the animals also seem a bit more modern. We see both mammals that wouldn’t look out of place in the time of dinosaurs but also pretty modern looking foxes, gophers, and of course the bison. Plus, it seems like evolution took some twists and turns that it wouldn’t have done if dinosaurs went extinct; such as the large insects and the four legged vipers. But most of all, the fact that humans exist in this world show that this film took advantage of the concept it was going for. The idea of this film gave us the opportunity to have a dinosaur and a human boy be friends without science geeks like me crying out ‘humans and dinosaurs never lived at the same time’! Come on guys, one of the main characters was a human being! Did people just not notice that?
Or did they think this movie took place in some weird Flintstones type universe?
So yeah, this movie doesn’t go with the idea that if dinosaurs never went extinct they would create cities and futuristic technology. Anyone could think of that. Pixar once again took the road less traveled and decided to take this opportunity to create a dinosaur movie that is, of all things, a western.
A dinosaur movie.
That’s a western.
Do you know how absolutely rare that is?
OK, it’s not unheard of, but have you ever seen it done well?
Anyway, so Arlo, being the smallest and weakest of his family, is constantly bullied by his siblings and feels insignificant in return. His father, surprisingly, is actually quite supportive and patient with Arlo and that right there is basically a death sentence.
You see, if you’re a father figure to a disappointment of a son, your story line is going to go one of two ways. Either you’re a jerk who can’t understand why is offspring is so incapable only to learn his lesson by the end of the film when said offspring goes off to do something amazing, or you’re wise and understanding and overall a loving father, meaning you have to die so the main character can have some believable motivation/much needed drama. So yeah, spoiler alert, the father dies, and it’s painfully obvious. He’s a cool and likable character, but just like Mufasa, that brings him to his ultimate downfall. Jerks have to stay till the end of thew movie so they can learn their lesson (dying after that is optional), but good father figures have to act as martyrs so their wimp of a son can have some much needed character development. It’s the male equivalent of being ‘stuffed into a fridge’ (look it up).
But yet, I still think it really works.
Many people criticize this part of the film as being emotionally manipulative and expected from a Disney/Pixar film, thus loosing it’s intended impact. And yes, both Disney and Pixar have pulled of this stunt in family films several times before. But I don’t think the scene itself is handled any better or worse than what others have done before it.
One of the criticisms of Pixar is that their films have become emotionally manipulative, trying to make us feel emotion instead of having them come out of us naturally. Personally, I think that is just a side effect of time. I don’t think Pixar movies today do any more or any less emotional manipulation than the Pixar movies before them. We as an audience have just gotten more accustomed to seeing it, the novelty isn’t new anymore. Imagine if Finding Nemo came out today instead of a decade ago. The first scene where Marlin’s wife gets killed by the barracuda probably wouldn’t be the tear jerker like it was back then, but instead be painted as another example of fake emotion by critics. Think about it, we don’t really get to know Marlin’s wife as a character, we don’t get the chance to become attached to her. Really, her death could be seen as just a way to get out some cheap drama for the first act. But back in 2003, that kind of dark material was still kind of surprising to the audience, even with movies like the Lion King that came out a decade before it. Now it’s kind of expected. Or at least, it doesn’t hold the same impact. But really, all film making is at it’s core is emotional manipulation. When you’re making a movie, you’re doing it not only to make money or to tell a story but because you want your audience to feel a certain way, whether that be sadness, happiness, laughter, terror, or so on. And in writing scripts and filming scenes, you are painstakingly working to make sure your audience feels those emotions. Really, if a movie fails to make you feel anything, than it has failed as a movie. I know I end of disliking movies that made me feel nothing over movies that made me angry or got me offended. Pixar is an expert at making it’s audience feel, I guess movie goers nowadays just see it as an expected thing.
Than again, it makes sense that people are talking about emotional manipulation in Pixar films when their last movie was actually about emotional manipulation.
So, Arlo’s father dies in a freak flash look while helping Arlo complete a job. You see, Arlo was tasked in capturing and ultimately killing an unknown creature eating their food reserves for the winter, and this job was supposed to help prove Arlo’s worth in the family. This creature, which turned out to be a human child (but the dinosaurs just see it as another critter) ran off before Arlo could do the deed and his father went to help try an catch it. So you see, Arlo feels guilty in himself as being the cause of his father’s death since he couldn’t complete the job, but he also blames the human itself. Later, the human kid returns to steal more food, and Arlo chases it in anger. In doing so he accidentally falls into a raging river and his drifted miles away from his home, stranding him in the middle of nowhere.
Now, let’s take this moment to talk about Spot, the human boy. Now, kid characters in family films can be kind of hit or miss, so I am so happy to say that Spot is one of the best things about this movie. The twist of this story is that Spot doesn’t act like a normal human boy but instead like a dog, and everyone knows that dogs in movies automatically get sympathy from the audience. But Spot is more than that. He can’t speak, so he has that silent likability that a dog character would have, but since he’s human he’s a lot more emotive, so you can still get a good sense of his personality. Spot is mischievous and a bit of a prankster, but overall he’s curious. Despite Arlo’s initial hostility, Spot continues to watch over him. He even tries to give Arlo food, but the first couple times he didn’t realize Arlo was a vegetarian and continued to give him meat (in some ways more disgusting than others). Eventually, Arlo and Spot learn to depend on each other, and as the movie progresses a very natural love between the two is shown. Arlo and Spot’s relationship together truly is the heart of the movie, and some of my favorite scenes in the entire movie involve these two (one being the scene where they both explain to each other the fate of their dead parents, and the scene where they get high together after eating some fermented fruit that comes literally the frick out of nowhere).
On their little adventure, Arlo and Spot run into a few colorful characters. One of which is Forrest Woodbush, a lone ceratopsian who collects animals as spiritual protectors. Although this character only appears for a few minutes, he makes an impression. This guy is hilarious!!!
The main antagonists of the film are a group of pterosaurs lead by a Nyctosaurus (?) named Thunderclap. Now, I have quite a few things to say about these guys.
OK, so it is basically shown that dinosaurs and only dinosaurs (and perhaps humans) evolved to attain sentience. All the other animals shown act like normal animals would. So, why can the pterosaurs talk? Pterosaurs aren’t dinosaurs. They aren’t biologically linked together beyond sharing a common ancestor. Pterosaurs should just be another animal in this world, but for some reason they happened to develop intelligence as well. What makes them so special? Does this mean all archosaurs attained intelligence? Can crocodiles talk to? Why can’t the birds talk then if birds are nothing more than super advanced dinosaurs? Did they loose intelligence somewhere along the line? Those chicken things at the beginning of the movie had hands and a bony tail, they were basically Oviraptors! If the raptors in the movie can talk so should those birds!
OK, now let’s talk about accuracy. I didn’t really bother with this earlier because the dinosaurs are so stylized and exaggerated it would just be pissing in the wind to bring it up, but it seems whenever pterosaurs are involved the stakes seem to get much higher. You see, the pterosaurs in this movie aren’t actually that bad. I mean, sure, they exhibit classic Ptero-Soarer cliches, but the way they walk and move around really feels natural with their anatomy, something that can look very awkward in some pterosaur reconstructions. But a lot of people bring up the fact that the pterosaurs have eagle like talons and that lead Nyctosaurus has claws on his wings, even though said genus is quite notable for lacking those. Personally, I have the head canon that the pterosaurs of this world evolved talons in order to compete with the growing bird population and remain the true lords of the sky, effectively taking up the niche eagles and vultures would have filled in their absence. This is supported by the fact that these characters are depicted as ruthless hunters. As for the Nyctosaurus hand claws, I don’t think Thunderclap is actually a Nyctosaurus, but instead just a pterosaur that evolved a similar head crest. I mean, you have to remember that the actual head crest of a Nyctosaurus was much more…..exaggerated in real life.
And here’s a Nyctosaurus. It’s not often a dinosaur movie tones down an unique feature.
OK, OK, I’ve done my science ramble. How are these guys effective as characters? My personal opinion? Pretty damn effective. They initially come off as quite friendly if not a little eccentric, professing some strange religion that deifies the weather. And initially they have no desire to hurt Arlo, and sincerely promise to help him find his way home. But when they show a desire to eat Spot, that’s when it hits the fan. These guys become mercilessly deranged, and their devotion to their weather cult just adds another layer of uncomfortable. Steve Zahn’s performance as Thunderclap also masterfully switches from comedic to terrifying.
Thankfully, Spot and Arlo are saved by a family of tyrannosaurs. Of course, whenever you see a T. rex in these kinds of movies usually it’s followed by the main characters screaming and narrowly escaping being eaten. However, not only are these Rexes given speaking roles, but they are legit good guys. It seems that while the herbivorous dinosaurs evolved to become farmers, the carnivores became ranchers raising long horn cattle (actually bison). I think this is an awesome way to show how the dinosaurs have changed, as I can imagine carnivorous dinosaurs now being uncomfortable preying on fellow sentient species.
Now, these tyrannosaurs really bring home the fact that this movie is actually a western. They’re essentially cowboys, they’ve got thick American accents, even the way they move is meant to mimic the way a rider on his horse moves. It just really amazes me that this is the direction Pixar decided to go with in this movie, but I’ve got to say I love it. These characters I find incredibly endearing and likable, seven year old me would be quite happy with this (I always wanted to see a T. rex character that was a good guy).
Now, if you’re in a western herding cattle, then cattle rustlers aren’t far behind. And in this movie, they take the form of hillbilly raptors.
Of course, these days whenever you talk about raptors you have to mention whether they are feathered or not. And surprisingly, the film decides to actually add some. Granted, the feathers have that ‘glued on’ look to them that doesn’t look quite natural and their bodies and forearms are still proportioned more or less the same way they are in Jurassic Park. So yeah, they still aren’t great despite the feathers, but in all honesty, I wasn’t expecting them to be. With the other dinosaurs in this film being so cartoony as a visual choice, I kind of think it’s too much to ask for scientifically accurate dromaeosaurs.
Now, the final act of this film I find to be quite exciting. With the help of the Tyrannosaurs, Arlo and Spot finally find their way home, but along the way, they find what looks like another human. Spot seems to recognize them, but against his better judgement, Arlo leads him away from the person. You can now tell that Arlo just can’t bare the thought of loosing his best friend, even though he knows deep down it’s probably for the best.
But on the way home, a storm once again brews up and the pterosaurs from before snatch away Spot. While trying to save him, Arlo get’s knocked out and begins to hallucinate his father’s presence. In an incredibly well done scene, Arlo slowly begins to realize what he thinks is his papa isn’t real and has to abandon it in order to save Spot. The scene is gut wrenching and full of emotion, one of the saddest scenes in a Pixar movie in my opinion.
Arlo gets back up and finds the pterosaurs, and he knocks them into the flooding river, presumably killing them. Heck, he even tears through the skin of Thunderclap’s wing when throwing a piece of wood at him. You know, I’ve seen some contradictory statements made about this movie in some reviews. Some say the film skews a bit young, while others say this movie is too dark for small children. I have to say I agree with the latter. Despite the cartoony animation style of the characters, the stakes in this movie are definitely high, and you can feel it. Death is addressed, and strong thematic emotions are felt throughout. This film earned it’s PG rating, which is especially strange since we live in a world where Frozen is rated PG.
So Arlo defeats the pterosaurs, but Spot is swept away in the rapids. Then, the whole valley begins to flood in the same way it happened when his father died. Here, Arlo has to face his greatest fears to save someone he loves, and in an absolutely exhilarating series of events, Arlo saves him. Yeah, in the grand scheme of things the whole thing is pretty predictable, but the way the scene is done almost makes you forget that. It even has a cliche waterfall at the end of the river and yet you still feel invested. The danger just felt so real, it really felt like these two characters could actually die even though the rational part of your mind knows they won’t. I think it’s just a testament to just how great storytellers the Pixar staff are.
So the movie ends with Arlo and Spot returning home, only to see that family of humans again. Arlo, now much more mature after the experience, knows that it’s the right thing to do to return Spot to his family (but not after a classically drawn out and tearful goodbye is given to us). Arlo returns to his home a stronger man, is greeted happily by his family, and finally gains the respect he so desperately wanted but has finally earned.
Guys, I love this movie.
Like, I really love this movie.
Yeah, the characters may feel familiar and the story line has been done before, but Pixar still got something familiar and turned it into something great. The animation in this film is great, the backgrounds being some of the most realistic CGI I have ever seen. And even though the characters aren’t designed realistically, they still move with a realistic weight that is very noticeable (especially in the father character and the tyrannosaurs). I personally enjoyed this more than Inside Out, and I think it is a wonderful addition to the Pixar resume.
But not everyone is as enthusiastic as I am.
This film has a surprisingly low score on Rotten Tomatoes; a 77% last I checked. Remember that Pixar film review averages are usually in the 90’s, and other Pixar films with this low a score include the fairly forgettable Brave and ….shudders…Cars. For me, this film was easily a B+. But a lot of people just can’t seem to get past the strange visuals and the overdone plot. And sadly, this is being reflected in the ticket sales.
This movie was expensive to make, partly due to the advances in the animation and also because the film kept on getting delayed and reworked. In fact, it ended up being one of the most expensive films of all time. It’s been estimated that the movie has to make $500 million just to break even! That’s a tall order for any movie, but usually Pixar is up to the task. Sadly, it doesn’t look like The Good Dinosaur is going to make half it’s money back, let alone make a profit. It looks like this will be the first Pixar movie to actually loose money. And usually, that’s not that big of a deal in the long run. Other successful companies have made several expensive movies that lost money (this was the financial situation at Disney for most of the early 2000s), but usually the just bite the bullet, quietly ignore the failed movie, and move on. But when you have the kind of track record that Pixar has, where every single one of their movies has been a smash hit, people aren’t going to forget so easily. Sadly, I think this movie is going to go down in history as the first Pixar movie to flop, and that may be all it’s remembered for. But there’s so much more to this movie than that. I saw this movie in a packed theater, and everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves. The people who like this film will remember it, and the ones who don’t will just quietly forget. But personally, I loved this movie to bits. I encourage you to support this film, and see it for yourself if you haven’t already.