Last week I went with my two brothers to see The Good Dinosaur, the latest animated film from Pixar. We had to choose between that and the final Hunger Games movie, but one of my brothers hadn't seen any of the previous HG films...so The Good Dinosaur it was! I don't think any of us knew much about the film going in, other than that it was about a dinosaur and his pet human, so we didn't have any preconceptions about what we were going to see.
The main character of the story is Arlo, a timid Apatosaurus who lives with his family on a corn farm in the shadow of the Rockies. Yes, that's right, a farm. Farming dinos. Why not?
In this world, the devastating meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs never happened, so dinosaurs remained as the dominant life form on Earth. The setting of the movie is in the present day, and the dinosaurs have evolved a high level of intelligence. However, they are still quadrupeds, meaning that they have to hold objects with their mouths, and do things like plow dirt with their faces(!). In other words, don't expect any kind of real saurian biology here (though there are a handful of characters with feathers...that's something, I suppose).
After some scenes involving farming and chasing silo-robbing critters, aka humans, Arlo gets washed down a river and ends up hundreds of miles from his home and family. Luckily the little human boy he was chasing made it there too, and the two of them slowly become friends as the movie progresses. Who knew having a pet with opposable thumbs would be so useful?
The most obviously noticeable thing about the film is the visuals. The setting appears to be in or around Colorado, and Pixar makes excellent use of the setting. Backdrops of jagged mountains, deep canyons, and endless pine forests are rendered in exquisite detail. Many of the shots are almost frighteningly photo-realistic. The CG landscapes really must be seen to be believed! I can't wait to see them in HD, it'll be drool worthy. Check out The Art of the Good Dinosaur for some gorgeous concept art!
On the other hand, the characters are rendered very cartoonishly, with stylized cartoon bodies, giant eyes, and bright crayon box colors. Arlo and his family members look and move way more like Dino from the Flintstones than any real dinosaur. The contrast between the cartoony characters and the near-perfect realism of the backgrounds is a little jarring. It was obviously a deliberate choice, and I'm always in favor of trying new styles and techniques in movie making. But personally, I found the contrast distracting and unappealing. Even a little more realism in the characters would have helped bridge the gap, I think.
The story is fairly generic; a tale about two different people who learn to work together and care about each other as they journey home. There are some touching moments, but I never came anywhere near tears as I often do with Pixar films.
One big surprise for all of us was the genre of the movie - it's a western! There's a homestead on the prairie, a trio of T-Rex cowboys (one of them voiced by veteran western actor Sam Elliot), a family of redneck velociraptor cattle rustlers, and some low-down good-fer-nuthin' Pterosaur bandits. The T-Rexes even travel at an odd gallop, making them imitate the movement of a rider on a horse. The only thing missing is a town with a sheriff, and maybe a shootout in front of the saloon!
Overall, The Good Dinosaur is ok, but it's definitely one of Pixar's weaker films. It's cute and heartwarming, and has a good message about friendship and family and responsibility, but there's nothing we haven't seen before (ok, I'm pretty sure this is the first ever occurrence of raptors with mullets, but you know what I mean). The best part is absolutely the nature backgrounds...I would happily remove the characters and just watch an hour and a half of the landscapes accompanied by music!
I give The Good Dinosaur a 3 out of 5 score. A good choice if you have children, but don't expect too much depth or complexity for adults. Tissues probably not required, but put one in your pocket just in case.
Oh yeah, the short, "Sanjay's Super Team", was great! I actually enjoyed it more than the movie.