Saturday, December 19, 2015

"The Good Dinosaur"

 2 / 5 

To give credit where it is absolutely due, The Good Dinosaur is one of the most visually stunning animated films ever made.  Every frame of it is magnificent to behold.  Even the cartoonish main characters, who initially seem so out of place in such a photo-realistic background, are gorgeous.  There are some secondary characters who seem to have popped in from a TV show, but they don't diminish the beauty.

Artists at Pixar have outdone themselves.  In one scene, the eponymous good dinosaur and the little caveboy who hangs out with him go swimming in a shimmering pond.  The camera dives in and out of the water with them.  We see them half-in and half-out of the water.  It is a magnificent moment.

In another scene, the dinosaur, who is named Arlo, is trying to help the little boy, who gets named Spot, and a landslide occurs in the background.  The cascading earth is depicted with a raw power that makes the balloon flight of Up, for instance, look like, well, a cartoon.

To consider The Good Dinosaur only from the standpoint of its artistic vision, it might be one of the best animated movies ever made.  The natural, prehistoric scenery is just awesome, quite literally.

But then there is the story -- or, more problematically, the lack of one.  The Good Dinosaur starts with a really intriguing premise, which is that the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed the Earth and that they became the planet's dominant and most intelligent life form because they had a multi-million-year headstart on humans.  But there's only an idea.  Pixar, which always seems to give such careful consideration to making its stories strong and compelling, apparently forgot to go further than the pitch.

Instead, they added in the most basic building blocks of a stereotypically Pixar-Disney movie: Arlo is an adorable runt.  He's scared of the world.  His parents want him to be stronger.  His father dies.  He gets separated from his mother and siblings.  He has to make his way in the world.  He meets a sidekick.  They go on an adventure to get back home.  They bond over their loneliness, since the sidekick is an orphan, too.  There is wistfulness.  There is joy.  There is a reunion.  The end.

As if to try to cover for the lack of plot, the creators of The Good Dinosaur get downright sadistic when it comes to the "adventure" they put Arlo through.  The poor guy is physically tortured throughout the movie.  Arlo watches his father die right in front of his eyes, rocks fall on him, trees fall on him, creatures attack him.  I can't recall a children's film in which a character was treated so brutally, right there on screen.

The most clever conceit in the film is that after millions of years of ruling the Earth, dinosaurs can talk and build things (even without opposable thumbs -- they're really smart), and they take on the agrarian traits that, according to real history, humans did.  In turn, humans have evolved slowly.  They walk around on all fours like dumb brutes, snarling and growling.  So, when Arlo meets the little boy, he regards him like a wild animal and ultimately names him "Spot" as if the boy were a dog.  It sounds weird, and it is, but after a while the relationship does grow on you.

But nothing happens.  They wander around facing peril after peril, but nothing really happens.  The movie is quite literally as lost as Arlo.  It just bides time, moving from one moment to the next as if Pixar figured if there was no real linear story to develop, at least The Good Dinosaur could let some talented artists hone their skills.

In the movie's absolute weirdest moment, Arlo and Spot get high.  Yes, The Good Dinosaur might be the first (and last?) kids' movie with a drug-trip scene.  Well, I guess if Dumbo could get drunk 70 years ago, it's about time that a 21st century cartoon character got really baked.

I mean, there's nothing else to do.  Getting high seems as good an idea as any.

Viewed Dec. 19, 2015 -- DVD

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