Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Good Dinosaur (2015) - Movie Review

http://redribbonreviewers.wordpress.comSince we’re at the point where Disney has such a monopoly on the world’s entertainment, making a statement like “They’re having a good year” would be rather redundant. It’d be like saying General Electric has made a profit; it sets off ‘no shit’ alarms pretty quickly. That said, even for a company as prolific as Disney, this has been an amazing year for them: The continuing success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Inside Out, the latest iteration of Cinderella and let’s not forget the hype singularity that is The Force Awakens. And even outside of their commercial write-ups, their average for quality has been far better than previous years; hell, my top two films of the year are both Disney properties. So, considering all that, I can think of no better way to close out the year than with a look at another release from the House of the Mouse. So, for the first part of the finale of my insane month of reviews, let’s take a look at Pixar’s second release for the year: This is The Good Dinosaur.

The plot: In an alternate history, where the asteroid that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs never hit the Earth, said dinosaurs have continued to grow and thrive and have even evolved to the point of being able to speak. Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an Apatosaurus, lives on a farm with his father Henry (Jeffrey Wright), his mother Ida (Frances McDormand), his brother Buck (Marcus Scribner) and his sister Libby (Maleah Padilla). When a freak accident causes Arlo to be washed away in the nearby river, alongside a human child he named Spot (Jack Bright), Arlo must traverse the dangerous prehistoric landscape and make it back home safely.

Pixar, when they are legitimately trying, can come up with some truly gorgeous CGI that stands as a testament to the art form. The animation here, at least for the scenery, is seriously close to Walking With Dinosaurs-level quality. The weather effects, the texturing, the fact that they gave some form of character to different types of water; this is easily some of the best I’ve seen from this studio with a lot of photo-realistic detailing. The dinosaur designs, on the other hand, aren’t as good. Not to say that they’re bad, far from it, just that it feels a little too cartoonish when put on top of the beautifully realised backgrounds. That said, credit is definitely deserved for how they didn’t immediately go for the easy designs for the dinosaurs. Apart from a few of the more recognisable creatures, we’ve also got some nice mid-transition looks like the semi-chickens that Arlo and his family farm for I’m guessing the eggs. Yeah, even with how well they portrayed that farm in relation to those dinosaurs without dialogue, some bits of it don’t hold up as well as others.

Speaking of what is portrayed without dialogue, I once again have to congratulate a studio that has the nerve to use the visual medium in a family film. While there is dialogue, and it is mostly well-written and delivered, a lot of the more crucial points are delivered just through what we see. There are two examples in this film that are genuinely heart-melting in how they handle emotion through the visuals, and oddly enough they’re both incredibly sad moments. One of them is how the first on-screen death is handled, which is very sombre and tear-jerking without needing to even say “I’m sorry. _____ is dead.” The other involves Arlo trying to explain the idea of ‘family’ to Spot using sticks in the ground. Very little dialogue, most of which is comprised of the word “family”, and it is easily one of the most emotionally hard-hitting moments I’ve seen all year.

During the first act, while definitely being impressed by the animation and music, I couldn’t help but feel that this is the kind of story that seriously didn’t even need to involve dinosaurs. It basically plays out like a Western, even includes herding cattle alongside Sam Elliott as a T-Rex, with hints of the ‘boy and his pet’ sub-genre mixed in there as well. But as the film progresses, a thought started to sneak in: What if you replaced the dinosaurs with humans and played this as a live-action Western? Maybe have Spot be played by a dog or a wolf alongside our farm boy Arlo. Well, if that was the film that we got, it most certainly would not be marketed towards kids.

This is an especially dark story in that light, considering some of the characters that Arlo runs into along the way. We have Thunderclap (Steve Zahn) and his fellow pterodactyls that worship “the Storm” and basically act like a surrogate for Christian ministers, rescuing people from the aftermath of a natural disaster. Of course, ministers aren’t usually known for eating those that they rescue in those situations. Add to that the story of how Butch (Sam Elliott) got the scar on his face and a threat he makes to Arlo at one point, and all of a sudden this is a Wild West story involving cannibals. There’s also casual decapitation of an insect by Spot, the insect in question being about three times his size, and Arlo and Spot being the first creatures in human history to get drunk (or possibly stoned) after eating rotten fruit. Basically, this film stands as a monument to exactly how much can be snuck by kids when the right facades are put in place. In all honesty, I have to commend the filmmakers for creating an incredibly dark cowboy tale and wrapping it up in a child-friendly package.

Here’s the weird thing, though. I know that applying that same mindset of swapping the surrogate creature with a human can make a lot of different tales a lot more adult by comparison. However, the reason why I use it in this case is because I think the filmmakers want us to see that way to a certain degree. Spot’s very canine mannerisms and movements, right down to shaking his leg when he gets scratched, Arlo and his family’s very human-looking farm, the Southern accents given to most of the scavenging dinosaurs (whom usually want to eat the main characters) and even how the T-Rexs’ movements resembling a man riding a horse, much like a cattle rancher would; in a few subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the film is trying to humanise the characters and settings it presents to us. Under normal circumstances, the attempts to humanise these dinosaurs combined with the gruesome implications would make me question exactly how child-friendly this film really is. Of course, I’m the kind of filmgoer who loves the dark and unexpected; I can only see this as a selling point, really.

All in all, I freaking love this movie. It’s essentially a gruesome coming-of-age Western disguised as a children’s film, portrayed through excellent voice acting, spectacular animation and writing that manages to work both on a surface level and as a nice serving of Fridge Horror. This may not be the best Pixar film ever, but that doesn’t mean that this should be completely discarded like it seems likely to be. This is still quality Pixar work that deserves to be seen.

The short that precedes the film, Sanjay’s Super Team, is an encapsulated bit of just how amazing Pixar can be. The animation, the pacing, the juxtaposition of Hindu religious icons and modern-day superheroes and the questions that such a comparison raises; this more than holds up to the company’s pedigree for shorts.

No comments:

Post a Comment