Sunday, 27 December 2015
Good Dinosaur, O.K.A.Y. Movie
There may have been a point earlier in the development of Pixar's 2015 releases, when they thought of The Good Dinosaur as the safe bet and merch mover, while Inside Out would be a weird outlier. The Good Dinosaur is after all about a dinosaur, a good one no less, and we can already look at the top end of this year's box office to see that everybody fucking loves dinosaurs, even if there in movies that aren't that good. Who's going to buy plushes for the emotion of anger, these conjecture businessmen must have wondered? Yet The Good Dinosaur struggled its way out of development and onto screen, and in the meantime Disney and Pixar decided to place their marketing bets on Inside Out (the most 'Pixar' Pixar movie of them all), advertising it heavily and releasing it during the summer, while The Good Dinosaur was shrugged out at the end of November without much buzz or advertising. In my consummate dedication I'm now writing about this film so late that you probably won't be able to catch it in cinemas whether I recommended it or not. Which is maybe just as well, because it's definitely a 'wait for DVD release' offering from Pixar.
Although its the kind of thing that's easy to ignore when you have as good a track record for the finished project as Pixar do, the fact is that they have an extensive history of troubled productions. Chalk it up more to perfectionism than discord, but over the years Toy Story 2, Ratatouille, Cars 2, Brave and now The Good Dinosaur have all replaced directors in the middle of production and this film makes that more visible than most of those others. Original director Bob Petersen was replaced as he was having too many issues getting the film's story to come together, and the finished product-cobbled together by director Peter Sohn, Pixar ringers like John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich and others feels like the 'it'll just have to do' effort that it probably is. Members of the voice cast were replaced or dropped completely and the story was streamlined, resulting in something that's functional, but basic and is lacking that 'labour of love' feeling that the best Pixar films evoke.
Arlo is a socially un-gifted young dinosaur in a world where the meteor never hit the Earth and dinosaurs never became extinct. They have advanced enough to work the land and herd livestock, and Arlo lives on the family farm, worrying about making his mark (in a literal as well as metaphorical sense) as he's too awkward, weak and easily scared to knuckle down and do the hard work necessary to be allowed leave a muddy footprint signature on the farm's corn silo as the rest of the family have done. Arlo is tasked with taking out a feral caveboy who keeps eating their food supply, but after his hesitance his father gets Land Before Timed and some time after that, Arlo and the caveboy (who he names Spot) end up falling in the local river and sent miles away from home. So the boy and his dog/dinosaur and his boy have to make their way back.
It's a basic 'Find Your Way Home' story but the problem is that essentially all Pixar movies are a 'Find Your Way Home' story with interesting ideas and fun characters on top of it. There's nothing really bad about The Good Dinosaur but it hasn't ended up with anything distinguishing of its own and at times it ends up being, sad to say, a little dull. It's oddly serious for an animated children's movie and though Arlo and Spot aren't totally isolated, encountering villainous (religious whacko?) Styracosaurus and a family of friendly T-Rex cowboys, there is a feeling of emptiness to the movie, for long stretches of time they have nobody to react to but each other. It's again hardly unusual for a Pixar movie to focus on the dynamic between a small pairing of characters, but when they're both young and one can't talk, there are limitations that the film struggles to get around. Arlo has been de-aged in all the rejiggering, and again, his arc-find some courage-is functional, but not very interesting. Most of the best work on The Good Dinosaur has gone into the animation, children will enjoy the simple designs of the dinosaurs and the environments are some of the most stunning computer animation you'e going to see, but at times it's like The Good Dinosaur is just a better-looking version of Ice Age.
Nobody likes Ice Age.