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New Release Review - THE GOOD DINOSAUR

A dinosaur teams up with a child to find their way home.


Review by Joshua Mitchell (@jlfm97)

Directed by: Peter Sohn

Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Steve Zahn, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott


"The Good Dinosaur isn't necessarily bad, but there's a very significant portion of the film that really doesn't work. It feels rushed, sloppy, and even derivative."




The Good Dinosaur is Pixar's 16th feature film, but it was planned as their 15th before arguably the most gruelling production period the company has ever known. First the film's original director, Bob Peterson (writer of multiple Pixar films, and co-directer of Up), was removed from the project. Then the film was delayed by over a year, with the story changing dramatically. Peter Sohn stepped onboard to direct, and almost the entire cast was replaced (despite their dialogue having already been recorded). The result is a haphazard mix of good and bad, that has its charms, but compared to Pixar's other films, this one is only just ahead of Cars 2.
Set in an alternate universe where dinosaurs and humans exist simultaneously, the film focusses on a young dino named Arlo who is separated from his family after falling in a rapidly moving river. As Arlo tries to make his way back home, he is joined by a six-year-old human boy, who is eventually named Spot. Together they brave the perilous forests and mountains and are met by a variety of strange characters along the way.
It's worth noting that the visuals are stunning. This is by far Pixar's most beautiful film from a visual perspective, achieving a photo-realistic look that's genuinely breathtaking at times (effectively heightened by Mychael and Jeff Danna's lovely score). The dinosaurs themselves are more cartoony, but they boast fun and unique designs that render them as immediately memorable. Unfortunately, the visuals serve almost as tantalising sirens designed to distract from the film's many problems.
Indeed, this is a rare instance where it seems that Pixar placed higher emphasis on the visuals than on the story. The film is choppy, and made up of random, almost disconnected scenes that often have little to do with the actual plot. One can sense the problematic production in the way the film is constructed. It's not uncommon for a Pixar film to undergo a chaotic production period. Pixar classics like Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille underwent enormous behind-the-scenes drama, but you could never tell by the film itself (the much maligned Brave suffered similar issues, though those are somewhat more prevalent in the final product). It's clear that The Good Dinosaur, even with the 17 month delay, needed more time.
Still, The Good Dinosaur is not without moments of greatness. The first 45 minutes are very entertaining, displaying a strong sense of invention, humor, and poignancy. Even then, the film is not without issues, but it all works. Unfortunately, the film takes a strange detour from its simple story by introducing multiple gangs of antagonists, and weird supporting characters that aren't funny or interesting. The film lags for about 40 minutes before picking up at the very end for the final moving scenes. There are several scenes that may induce tears. This is evidence that the movie works, at least to an extent. But almost half the film contains some scenes that are not only a little dull, but genuinely unpleasant. Especially troublesome are the random moments of grisly material that seem completely out-of-place.
The new voice cast is good enough (including a token role for John Ratzenberger that you'll miss if you're not looking for it), but is the dialogue even necessary? The best portions of the film have little to no dialogue. And many of the worst moments are because of the (sometimes) lame script. A wordlessly told film with this same general story would have been sublime. It's a shame that this is the movie we got instead.
The Good Dinosaur isn't necessarily bad, but there's a very significant portion of the film that really doesn't work, which keeps the film from being very good. It feels rushed, sloppy, and even derivative. Elements seep in from not only Pixar's own work (Finding Nemo, Cars, a little bit of Up), but also from other studios (Ice Age in particular, and one shot straight from Jurassic World that earns an unintentional chuckle). Ordinarily, it might be easy to dismiss The Good Dinosaur as a well-intentioned miss and leave it at that. But the fact that this is a Pixar film (that does achieve moments of genuine beauty at times) makes this a frustrating scenario. A little more time in production (or perhaps just another radical new direction) could have been of great benefit to The Good Dinosaur. But as it stands, it's one of the year's biggest disappointments.

Note: The Good Dinosaur is preceded by a short film entitled Sanjay's Super Team, directed by Sanjay Patel. It's charming, boasts unique animation and focuses on subject matter that one would never expect to be tackled in a short preceding a family feature. Get to the theater on time!

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