The Good Dinosaur (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Peter Sohn
Starring: (voices of) Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A. J. Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn
Certificate: PG
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.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

‘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.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 137 mins

‘The Hunger Games’ series is extremely strong quality-wise and is easily the best teenage fiction series since ‘Harry Potter’. The first two films in particular were near-perfect and weaved in many social and political commentaries to elevate their quality. The third film, ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1′ took a massive nose-dive for the series and all that audiences were left with was a film with build up but no satisfying action. Suzanne Collins’ third book, ‘Mockingjay’ is easily the weakest of the trilogy anyway so it’s understandable why it couldn’t match the first two. Many fans look forward to Part 2 which carries on from Part 1 and culminates into a very satisfying and intense final battle for the future of Panem.

‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2′ is a marked improvement on its predecessor and it very nearly scales the heights of the first two films in the series. It is a heartfelt and satisfying conclusion that makes Part 1 completely redundant and there are many social and political messages embedded throughout. At a time when ISIS terrorise the West, this film couldn’t come at a more ironic time and there are many uncomfortable similarities that both the fictional world created by Suzanne Collins and reality share which culminate in an even more heartfelt watch.

The acting remains as one of the series’ main strengths and Jennifer Lawrence nails the role of Katniss Everdeen again. Sitting most of Part 1 out, Josh Hutcherson has a welcome return and this is probably his most mature performance of the series. The other standouts here are Donald Sutherland who is on great form as Snow again and one of the final scenes of the film with him in it is outstandingly crafted – there isn’t anyone else who could have been as perfect a match as Sutherland is to the role. A lot of the cast are sidelined here unfortunately but the strength of these main performances, along with a sound Liam Hemsworth as Gale, keep the film in check.

The script and set designs are wonderfully crafted and extremely memorable. The battle sequences in particular are particularly well-staged and the film’s ending is very satisfying and rounds off the series nicely.  The score by James Newton Howard fits in well, but he hasn’t really recorded too much new material and instead has worked with what he has used before which is still serviceable.

It’s a welcome and unexpected relief that ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2’ is a return to form for the franchise. It is able to restore the tone and excitement that the first two shared – it’s just a shame that last year’s prelude to this film had to be so dour. With the franchise being extremely profitable, this film will undoubtedly lead into spin-off’s in the future which hopefully will be of the same quality.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)