It was The Barbarienne’s birthday—she turned ten—and she leapt at the opportunity to see the latest Pixar flick, The Good Dinosaur. The Boy and I had been wary because—while the movie has good reviews (77/68) RT, they’re not great reviews and certainly not Pixar level reviews. (Inside Out, for example, has a whopping 98/89.) This produced a great deal of anxiety for The Flower, for whom Pixar has been a Great Golden God all her life, up until Cars 2. For her, a so-so movie would be a terrible blow.
Well, The Barbariennte loved it (but she also loved Cars 2), and The Boy actually liked it better than Inside Out, which doesn’t surprise me. (I couldn’t have related to Inside Out as a 20-year-old childless young man.) And The Flower? Well, she was relieved; for her, the magic was back.
That said, to the extent that it was gone, the magic isn’t really back. The Good Dinosaur is a rather less artistically successful, sparser Finding Nemo.
Almost all Pixar movies are basically a house of cards: The implications of Toy Story, for example, are quite horrifying, from the immortality of toys to the notion that Sid’s creative destruction makes him a bad person with poor future prospects. Cars, Wall-E, A Bug’s Life—all of these universes work in spite of (rather than because of) the premises of their construction. The combination of attention to detail, steady introduction of vibrant characters, and general cleverness has allowed them to get away with it.
But not here, at least not for me (and increasingly, The Boy, over time). The basic premise is lovely: The comet that wiped out the meteors, instead misses, and a few million years later our heroes are dinosaurs who are essentially farmers in the Old West. Our hero, Arlo, is the runtiest apatosaurus, having trouble making his mark in the family when a blunder gets his father killed, Lion King-style. Another mishap throws Arlo far away from home with his bete noir—which as it turns out is a human boy (who acts like a dog)—and there’s your picture.
So. Yeah. It’s a road picture, where Arlo meets people on his journey homes, and learns to love his little human fido.
It’s enjoyable. If it were a Blue Sky picture, I’d have been pleasantly surprised, I suppose. But certain things really didn’t work for me.
First, the terrain is photoreal. Which is fine, but the dinosaur were very cartoonish, and the two mixed (I thought) poorly. You can judge for yourself from the above still, although it’s worse in motion. I don’t have a good solution for this problem, mind you: They managed in Nemo by backing off the realism a little bit, I think. Whatever, this looked fake. Which is a weird thing to say about a wholly CGI movie, I guess.
Second, the dinosaurs are farmers. Which, okay. But they’re dinosaurs. They didn’t evolve into bipedal reptilian humanoids. They’re still quadrupeds. But somehow they’re making bricks and building silos.
Third, humans are not dogs. I totally get what they were going for here: In this dinosaur-dominated story, humans never had the chance to evolve, or haven’t evolved yet, so they’re sorta dogs. But they’re dogs with opposable thumbs, the superiority of which is demonstrated on a number of occasions. Yet our heroes basically have hooves.
Fourth, Finding Nemo was about a neurotic who was worried about the world, and his journey to discover the world isn’t quite as dangerous as he thought, and also (of course) his son’s journey toward self-sufficiency. This is sort of about the latter, but it’s much less convincingly told.
Fifth, the nature of the story is to be rather violent, but the limitations of the genre and the PG-rating requires the violent to be rather…non-violent. So the fighting is bloodless, yet involves punctured wings and tyrannosaurus teeth. It was rather weird. There’s one point where Arlo saves a creature after a storm, and it’s immediately eaten by evil predatory pteranodons, and I thought to myself, “Wait, did we just witness a murder?” The Boy also commented on that scene.
Again, I didn’t hate it. But the delicate balancing act that typifies Pixar’s best work is missing here. The Boy’s opinion of it started high, but dropped rapidly over a few days. The Flower and The Barb enjoyed it, however, so I count that as a good thing.
I’m just not interested in seeing it again.