Director: Peter Sohn
Starring: (voices of) Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A. J. Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn
Run Time: 101 mins
‘The Good Dinosaur’ is the second of Pixar’s two offerings in 2015. ‘Inside Out’, released in the Summer (my review here) was hailed by many as a return to form by Pixar and there have been calls for it to feature on the Best Picture category in the upcoming Academy Awards. Personally, I don’t think they ever had a dip in quality between 2010 and 2015 apart from ‘Brave’ which I had my problems with. ‘The Good Dinosaur’ has had a very turbulent production and has been in the making for many years. Originally, it was to be directed by ‘Up’ co-director, Bob Peterson but then after he couldn’t find a way to crack the film’s third act, he was replaced by Peter Sohn. Peterson remains with just a writing credit. The film’s cast was also reworked in the transition between Peterson and Sohn and only Frances McDormand remains from the original cast which also included the likes of John Lithgow, Neil Patrick Harris and Bill Hader. The film was delayed by a year and a half, originally slotted in for a May 2014 release date and many employees of Pixar had been laid off due to the delay. Has this all paid off?
‘The Good Dinosaur’ is a decent film in its own right but by Pixar standards is one of their worst. It is a disjointed and manipulatively emotional film and its story is all over the place – the film hasn’t quite gelled together. Pixar famously boast that their story is their number-one priority but this is definitely not the case here. That said, the animation is breathtaking and there are many sweeping panoramic shots that are just stunning to behold. As a film in its own right, it’s still much better than many other animated films there are to offer, but it’s just disappointing that this film is not Pixar at its best – it definitely has the potential. There is also a lot of excessive biting and screaming from the characters in the film and it left me with a bit of a headache.
The story, whilst familiar, works at times but overall it feels incredibly disjointed. The whole concept of the asteroid missing Earth is genius and it’s just a shame that the story that follows ultimately can’t live up to this. Dinosaurs are essentially the humans – evolved over many years and intelligent and social and humans are referred to as ‘critters’. The opening 20 minutes or so are classic Pixar – the introduction to protagonist, Arlo’s family are wonderful and it is established what constitutes a family. There is a very powerful sequence where Arlo’s father (wonderfully voiced with a James Earl Jones twang by Jeffrey Wright) takes his son up a mountain to chase the ‘critter’ who is eating their harvest.
However, the rest of the film is extremely disjointed and whilst individual sequences work in their own right, it doesn’t gel together and it all feels aggressively out-of-touch and strange. There is one scene that particularly comes to mind where Pixar use drug references and especially for a child audience feels very strangely placed. The film also can’t decide what it wants to be tonally. At times, it feels like a film critiquing the environment and at other times feels like a Western. To be fair to Pixar, at least they’re trying to be different.
To Pixar’s credit, the animation is outstanding and is one of their best works. As mentioned, there are many stunning panoramic shots of Arlo’s environment and the attention to detail is mind-blowing. However, as critic Mark Kermode wrote in his review, if all you are looking at is the animation then there must be something seriously not right with the narrative and this is sadly the case. Even the score by Mychael Danna and his brother, Jeff Danna is all over the place.
It’s a real shame that ‘The Good Dinosaur’ isn’t able to match ‘Inside Out’ – it doesn’t even come close. It has gone through a very turbulent production which evidently shows in the finished film and it just all feels disjointed and tonally jumbled. Whilst it is still better than many other animation films, for Pixar, it is one of their very worst.
‘Sanjay’s Super Team’, the preceding short before the film is also a tonal jumble. Perhaps it has been released at the wrong time after a slew of superhero films, particularly ‘Big Hero 6’ which it feels extremely derivative of.