Monday, March 07, 2016

Cheap Critic: The Good Dinosaur


I generally run out and see Pixar films during the first week of their run, often opening night. But somehow the Missus and I had trouble working up a lot of enthusiasm for "The Good Dinosaur." We had seen the trailer several times and both had three-part reactions, notably:

1) The background and environmental rendering was gorgeous.
2) Against those amazing backgrounds the cartoonish character animation was jarring.
3) And... meh.

When I noticed that it was playing at our second-run theater where we could see it on the cheap I decided to give it a chance. I had seen several reviews that suggested that Pixar was so excited about their new technologies for environmental rendering that they overlooked the small detail of giving the film more than a pro-forma story. Now that I have seen the film I have to say that those critics were a bit hard on the film, which isn't to quite say they were wrong. The film has most of a decent story... but not all of one. It's frustrating because it was so fixable. But they didn't see it. And they didn't fix it. It's kind of lame but it didn't have to be.

The main problem -- and I've complained about this with Disney before (see my review of Brave) -- is that they are so into their characters that they can't let them change. At the end of the film the scriptwriters put the characters back where they found them with no scuffs or nicks from their adventure. In The Good Dinosaur our protagonist makes the hero's journey, sees marvels, performs brave acts, earns the respect of the ghost of his dad, rushes home to reach his family before its too late... and they are fine... they're glad to see him, mind you, but his earlier dramatic promise to his mother -- "I won't let you starve!" -- foreshadows nothing, she's fine, the family farm is fine, his brother and sister are fine, there's really no reason for him to have rushed home.

And then there is the name of the film -- The Good Dinosaur -- what's with that? We see lots of dinosaurs and most of them seem OK. There are a few bad ones, I guess -- the pterodactyls are hard to like and and the archaeopteryxes ditto (apparently feathered and/or flying dinosaurs are evil) -- but most of the other dinosaurs we see are good guys too. Our hero is nice enough but he never quite seems to earn his definite article. He is A Good Dinosaur, to be sure, but it seems like he'd have to change the world, just a bit, to earn the title of THE Good Dinosaur.

So, bottom line, The Good Dinosaur is worth seeing so you can goggle at the environmental rendering. Their computer animated vegetation is astounding and what they have done with animating water has to be seen to be believed. Just don't expect the story to go anywhere.