Review: ‘The Good Dinosaur’

Nov. 27, 2015 | 0 Comments

BY BURL BURLINGAME / Special to the Star-Advertiser

The arrival of a new Pixar film is always a reason for celebration, and indeed, there are many moments of terrific humor and scenes of staggering visual beauty in “The Good Dinosaur.” It is a good time at the movies.

‘THE GOOD DINOSAUR’

Rated G

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But it is not a great time. “The Good Dinosaur” lacks something that previous Pixar projects have had by the bucket — soul. It’s as if a committee of soulless corporate drones seized control of this film early on and did their best to suck the life and breath out of it, sacrificing the giddiness of imaginative artistry for the bottom-line market.

It feels dumbed-down, and dumbed-down hard. Suspects? Likely, the bean counters at Pixar’s partner, Disney.

Take the title. It doesn’t even make sense, although it’s safely innocuous. It is clearly the product of a committee hive-mind, stringing together marketable buzzwords.

Arlo, the youngest of a family of long-necked brontosaurii, is pretty much a bad dinosaur, although he tries to be good. The big dinos spend their days growing and storing corn for the winter. (This all occurs some eons after the Killer Asteroid misses the planet, a plot twist that is played up big in the advertisements, but is only a passing joke in the movie.)

The fact that they’re storing up for the “winter” indicates perhaps that Pixar/Disney have decided that dinosaurs are warm-blooded.

Anyway, Arlo is shrimpy (for a long-neck), stumble-footed, clumsy, and afraid of almost everything. His big brother and sister are the stars of the family. Does the comparison make Arlo either good or bad?

Things go south for Arlo when he’s swept downriver by a flash flood. Far from home, he befriends a savage, feral human child, who acts like a dog. Together, they walk back to Arlo’s family farm, meeting other dinosaurs along the way, some of which are “good” dinosaurs (meaning, they don’t want to eat you) and some of which are “bad” dinosaurs (carnivores!).

As a plot line, walking back to the farm is more of a straight line. No, it’s more a plod than a plot.

So how is this different from any of the umpteen “Ice Age” movies? It’s not, except that it has a mighty marketing machine filling its sails. One of the truly horrible things about “The Good Dinosaur” is the design of Arlo and his brontosaur family — they look like wax toys from a third-rate zoo. Next to the other creatures on the screen — including the humans — they’re jarringly out of place, design-wise. But they look smoothly perfect for popping cheap toys out of plastic.

Another crucial difference between “Ice Age” and this film is the frantic dance they make bystepping the notion of eating other animals. The carnivores in “Good Dinosaur” are bullies and sometimes scary, but they might as well be snarfing down prehistoric kale for all the bloodthirstyness they exhibit. In “Ice Age,” however, getting through the day and not getting eaten is a major theme.

“The Good Dinosaur” has many gorgeous moments to look at, but that beauty is all on the surface. While I can certainly marvel at the realistic computerized water in a movie, I don’t go to the movies to marvel at computerized water. The cleverness, creative joy and sense of engagement present in earlier Pixar films is missing here.

Exactly a century ago, artist Winsor McCay drew the first animated cartoon, featuring a dinosaur named Gertie. Gertie, even today, is awesome to see. It’s been a hundred years, for goodness sake, and Gertie is still the queen of the jungle.

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