Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Good Dinosaur

THE GOOD DINOSAUR (Peter Sohn, 2015)

THE GOOD DINOSAUR considers what might have happened if the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs never occurred. In the animated film’s imagined millions of years after the devastating meteor misses Earth, talking dinosaurs have developed agricultural practices while non-verbal humans in roaming packs are among the pesky critters that try to swipe their stockpiled food. Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an undersized apatosaurus among his two siblings, is tasked with catching and eliminating the pest. The feral boy is caught but gets away, leading Arlo’s father (Jeffrey Wright) to take the youngster in search of the thief and finish the job.

A flash flood sweeps away Poppa, so a grieving Arlo blames the boy for his father’s death. When he turns up again, Arlo shows no restraint in chasing after him, but he gets knocked out while in pursuit and awakens far from home. The boy proves to be Arlo’s means for surviving, as he provides him with food and protection. He shows dog-like loyalty to the dinosaur, thus leading to Arlo naming him Spot (Jack Bright). He’ll need the help as they encounter fierce creatures on the long journey home.

For better or worse, a new Pixar film bears the weight of expectations of being nothing less than great. With its visual elements THE GOOD DINOSAUR lives up to the high standards set by its predecessors. The natural scenery’s photorealistic rendering captures the beauty of land, vegetation, and geological formations untouched by civilization. It’s astonishing to compare how far computer animation has come since TOY STORY was released in 1995. Director Peter Sohn uses some lovely visual storytelling too, especially in the scene with Arlo and Spot finding a common language through sticks and sand to share their tragic family backgrounds.

As great as THE GOOD DINOSAUR is to look at, the story is a jumble of scenes in which a fearful dinosaur child matures through a daunting quest home. Arlo wanders through this archetypal western tale without clear markers of progress or picking up notable supporting characters. The narrative just sort of ends without any awareness of how close he’s getting to the homestead. The biggest threat on the journey come in the form of a trio of pterodactyls who aren’t as good-hearted as they initially seem. These nasty beasts introduce a fair amount of terror to their scenes but are in the film for so little time that their impact is diminished.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR doesn’t shy away from the hostile nature of the world and those encountered in it, which may make the film scarier for younger viewers than might be anticipated. Death and imminent harm hang over the film, yet the greater takeaways is the bond formed between a dinosaur and his pet boy as they face conflict. THE GOOD DINOSAUR does lighten the gravity of the situation with some loopy humor, such as Arlo and Spot’s awkwardness at bathroom time and their hallucinogenic visions after eating fruit. It’s unlikely to be anyone’s favorite Pixar film, but the majesty of its visuals and scattered idiosyncrasies are rewarding.

Grade: B-

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