The Good Dinosaur (Peter Sohn, 2015)
The cleverest moment in The Good Dinosaur, the new animated confection from Disney/Pixar, comes within the first few minutes. It’s 65 million years ago, and dinosaurs walk the Earth. We’re in deep space, where an asteroid separates itself from a field of fellow asteroids and spins toward its rendez-vous with Earth. It approaches, and we know what’s about to happen. Cut to our planet, verdant with lush vegetation, as unsuspecting creatures graze and hunt. Suddenly, there’s a flash in the sky: the asteroid has hit the atmosphere. And then? It bounces off and heads back into space. The dinosaurs raise their heads at the momentary celestial brilliance, then go back to their affairs. No extinction, apparently. The next title card brings us forward to the “present.”
Sadly, the rest of the movie does not come close to this level of wit. As a big fan of the Pixar œuvre (I loved this summer’s Inside Out), I had high hopes. That was my undoing. The Good Dinosaur rewards low expectations. It offers all of the (sometimes cloying) cuteness we have come to expect from both Disney and Pixar over the years, with none of the originality. If Bambi, The Lion King and Cars got together and had a script baby, this is what it would look like. Also, be forewarned if you plan to bring young children: there is a fair amount of trauma on screen, more than usual for this kind of movie. If you have sensitive kids, they may be unhappy.
Worse than the recycled coming-of-age plot is the nonsensical world building. What would dinosaurs be like if they had lived on and developed sentience? Apparently, even without opposable thumbs, they would be like us, only green. They would live in houses and till the land. How much more interesting this movie would have been had the writers exercised their imaginations and developed reasons for their story choices. Remember Monsters, Inc? There, the filmmakers created an entire alternate universe where new rules of logic applied, explained those terms early on, and then created a movie which mined this unexpected new world for much of its humor. Here, we meet Arlo, young misfit who must learn to be a man – excuse me – adult male dinosaur – by finding his way home once lost. As happens in these kinds of stories, he picks up a sidekick along the way – a human, as it turns out (who behaves, for some reason, like a canid) – who helps him learn important life lessons. Sound familiar? Exactly. Inside Out, in contrast, was so much more brilliant in its plotting, and it just came out on disc on November 3. Here’s an idea: this Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – treat yourself to a Black Friday purchase of the Blu-ray or DVD of that film while avoiding this new one.