So excited for #GoodDino! I forgot tissues though. Darn it!
— Jennifer Kaufman (@jnkaufman) November 23, 2015
This was my tweet when heading into the theater for our media screening this week, and it turns out I didn’t need them at all. I cried when I saw one particular scene during the D23 Expo in August, so I was ready for that one. It turned out to be the only scene that made me feel much at all.
The Good Dinosaur is Pixar’s sixteenth theatrical release (and second this year!). The movie follows Arlo, a young Apatosaurus, on an epic journey. After being separated from his family, he sets off on an adventure to find his way back home – and find himself in the process.
While making his way home, Arlo meets a very special friend named Spot, a young boy that very much acts like a dog. I remember in the Animation preview at the Expo, John Lassetter said, “The Good Dinosaur is just a story about a boy and his dog – except in this case, the boy is a dinosaur and the dog is a human.” That’s pretty accurate, and actually is much more endearing and less awkward than it may sound. Despite having seen a few extended previews this summer, I was surprised to learn more about Arlo and Spot’s history and relationship. I was also surprised that the movie in its entirety was very much a classic western. Except, you know, with T-Rexes that herd cattle and long-necked dinosaurs that farm.
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To be honest, the thing I enjoyed most about the movie was the logistics of making that adaptation. From the opening scenes you are aware this is a well thought out movie. How would a dinosaur work a crop differently than a human? Would their family dynamic be different, or familiar? That was all very intriguing; The Verge has a beautiful description of the one scene that I could watch again:
There’s one sequence in the movie that’s pure Pixar magic, in which Spot and Arlo communicate about their lost families. Spot doesn’t speak Arlo’s language or have one of his own, so they have to communicate with symbols and body language. The gestures they choose are pure and effective, cutting straight to the heart of the profound grief that unites them. It’s one of the few moments in the movie that feels like it’s being experienced…
Unfortunately, it was the story itself that left me underwhelmed. There were some really beautiful moments – even beyond the incredibly touching scene I was anticipating. Some were emotionally beautiful as described above, others were lovely like the memories you have of the first time you or your children saw fireflies. Ultimately, the overall plot was fine. At one point though, my three-year-old who can watch the same movies (primarily Disney and Pixar) a hundred times in a week and not get bored said, “Not agaaaaain!” to which I replied, “I know, Dude. [This same set of events] is getting old, isn’t it?”
That’s how I felt about much of the film.
The scenery was, as you may expect, breathtaking. Adding to the wow factor was the juxtaposition of very “cartoony” characters, for lack of a better word, against realistic and gorgeous landscapes. The character development was surprisingly almost nonexistent outside of Arlo and Spot. One could argue that the story can move forward well with just those two, but it was strikingly different than every other Disney and Pixar release that has a whole slew of interesting characters that make you laugh, cry, yell, and wonder. In the most important, climactic moments of the second half of the movie, all I could think of was, “Huh. I should be crying but I’m just really not that invested.”
I wanted to love this movie, and I feel like I’m being super harsh. Perhaps it’s because Inside Out was truly one of the most intelligent, funny, life-changing films… though if I’m honest, I’m pretty good at not trying to compare apples to oranges. Perhaps it’s because I don’t love the genre, but I can still point to so many overarching qualities that are ever-present in Pixar films that just, well, aren’t present. For example? I literally didn’t laugh out loud one time. And the whole not crying thing…
I’m going to be totally honest and risk all credibility as a fan when I say that my husband and I left after our first viewing of Finding Nemo and said a collective, “Meh.” Finding freaking Nemo. One of the greatest movies of all time. Will The Good Dinosaur reveal itself to me at some later date as an absolute gem I just missed the first time around? I’m not holding my breath, but goodness knows we’ll buy it and watch it again – so I won’t write it off!
Notes for Parents:
- At one point, Arlo and Spot eat a bunch of hallucinogenic berries. This isn’t the sort of thing that trips me up at all, from a parenting/appropriateness standpoint. It was very easy to explain to my kids that the berries were poisonous, the end. That said, the scene is super creepy. It feels entirely out of place in style and feel (akin to the “deconstructing” scene of Inside Out, if you’re familiar with it, except that it fit there since such abstract thought is right at home in the mind), and it makes Dumbo and Timothy’s “Pink Elephants on Parade” look as benign as Mickey Mouse. It wasn’t at all inappropriate in my opinion, just super strange.
- Throughout The Good Dinosaur, as well as most of the short shown before the film, “Sanjay’s Super Team”, there are incredibly intense scenes. My three-year-old and my seven-year-olds shied away from the screen several times, with a fear I haven’t seen from any other Disney or Pixar films of late, except perhaps the bear scenes in Brave. I realize all kids handle things differently, but you may want to find some clips or detailed reviews before taking young children!
“Sanjay’s Super Team” was actually more powerful, in my opinion, than the feature film it preceded. It will not rank among my favorite shorts because of its intensity, but it was really well done for what it is. If you like action and some dark scenes you may really enjoy it. If you don’t, I think you can still appreciate it. The story is that of young Sanjay, who would rather watch his favorite superheroes than participate in religious rituals with his father, and how the two eventually find common ground. It’s evident from the first moment to the end credits that this is an important story to director Sanjay Patel, and he tells it well. The ideas of personalizing religion and connecting with other generations made for great conversation with my second graders on the way home.
I think that seeing The Good Dinosaur with family this holiday will make for an enjoyable outing. I wouldn’t work hard to squeeze it in over other non-movie options, and honestly would suggest The Peanuts Movie first for most audiences. We will be purchasing it, but won’t be counting down to it. How’s that for a mixed review?