The Good Dinosaur (2015) – Review

“THE GOOD DINOSAUR”

The Good Dinosaur, by accident is the second hit Disney Pixar film to be released in the UK in 2015, having received severe delays upon it’s planned release last year mainly down to some technical hiccups and even the films origional director and several cast members leaving. It also marks the Director Peter Sohn’s first feature length Directing job. Having previously directed the short Partly Cloudy. He has mostly only worked as an actor for Pixar providing the voices of Neil in Ratatouille, Squishy in Monsters University and even has a part in this film for himself and considering how wide this is released this is a major opportunity for the up and coming Director. The Good Dinosaur has clearly become his baby, which whilst he didn’t directly write the screenplay, it is based on a story that he came up with along with 4 other people. The Good Dinosaur is one I was very excited about, this was being called the big Pixar comeback up until Inside Out came out and pretty much stole all it’s thunder. Now if you want my opinion on “Inside Out”, I reviewed it earlier this year for the site, so check it out. Though that was based on my initial thoughts on the film and the fact that I think my opinion might have been slightly clouded considering I had seen Song Of The Sea a few weeks earlier and was comparing it way too much to that. When I re-watched the film whilst I was on holiday, I actually found myself liking it even more and now I have come to conclusion that I absolutely love the film. I think it’s one of the great animated films of this year along with Song Of The Sea and The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya. With all that being said, with such high competition from really great animated films that have come out this year like those I have just mentioned, as well as the middling crowd of The Minions and Hotel Transylvannia 2, to the really awful George Lucas movie, Strange Magic, where does The Good Dinosaur stand in the mix?

The Good Dinosaur’s plot imagines a world in which the meteor that killed off the Dinosaurs slightly missed and as a result the world that would evolve out of that event not happening. We cut to millions of years later with young brachiosaur and son of the father Arlo (played by Raymond Ochoa) who is very afraid of almost the entire world. He tries to do his chores right and impress his father Poppa, played by Jeffrey Wright but doesn’t manage to match up to his tasks. Then one day he is separated off from the rest of his family by a massive storm, where he meets a young feral boy called Spot (played by Jack Bright), but he must get home and reunite with his family and to do it he must conquer his fears. This is not as original as Inside Out, this film does borrow from a lot of other sources like The Lion King, Homeward Bound, some of the Ice Age movies and there’s even a couple of scenes that look like they were lifted wholesale from the movie Grave Of The Fireflies. But I think the film this will most be compared to is Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time particularly considering that the main character is once again a young brachiosaur. However, unlike The Land Before Time, the dinosaurs don’t actually give themselves specific names and there is no massive species divide between the dinosaurs in this film, which, depending on your thoughts, can be a positive or a negative. I will let you take your pick with that one! Whereas Land Before Time was about a bunch of friends coming together in order to get back to their families, this one is just about one of them and his relationship with a small human child who is basically like a dog, considering that humans haven’t had the dominance to evolve yet to incredibly high intelligence, but the characters still get a gamut of emotive expressions and Jack Bright brings some really distinctive sound effects. You definitely feel what Spot is feeling without any lines of dialogue and many of the best scenes in this movie don’t contain any dialogue. There are some beautifully shot scenes in the middle of the film where Spot and Arlo communicate about their families and there is hardly any dialogue whatsoever and it proved the one rule of cinema ‘show, don’t tell’ and it works so well as a result of that. There is so much more emotion in that scene than would have been the case if there had been tons of dialogue there and I don’t think there are enough films aimed at a younger audience that are really being made today. This film really knows when to be quiet and it’s all the better for it.

The marketing of this film leads you to believe there are a lot of funny moments in this film, but there’s not too many of them, this is a pretty straight film, but when it does decide to become funny it can get some really good laughs, especially the funny moments with the character of Forrest Woodbush who is voiced by director Peter Sohn in his short cameo, but it’s incredibly funny. A lot of parents will be saying this is a pretty run of the mill family film, but it’s a very well made run of the mill family film and that’s what Pixar does best however it does allow a couple of moments that surprised me were allowed in a family film, they can take simple ideas and make them seem gigantic and that’s the case here again for the most part. Pixar would have been really on top form with this film if it hadn’t come out before Inside Out. With the exception of Inside Out, it’s probably their most emotional plot in years and it has moments that can really tug at your heart strings and what a great state for animation it is, that the film is this good, yet I’m not certain I can put it in my top 3 animated films for this year because it’s really not origonal and hasn’t quiet sucked me into the plot as much as the Song of The Sea or Kaguya! I think the film really sells itself with its characters, who all feel very natural and have some amazing chemistry amongst each other but it has a few narrative issues. The film for example diverts part way through to have amazing scenes like a cattle drive being led by T Rex but they kinda clash with what we were going for up to that point, This is one of those films that both sells its plot and its characters and the film is an almost perfect merging of the two, it doesn’t quite hit it on every level, but when you see many off the scenes that rely on visuals alone you know you are in for a good movie.

It does, however, have some negatives. The film makes it obvious that Dinosaurs have learned how to do activities like agriculture and herding, but there’s a lot of things that have been built that you would definitely need opposable thumbs to construct, but I don’t think the film ever properly explains how these have been made. I think the other factor that lets this film down is its villains, but that’s not too much of a problem because, let’s face it, Pixar’s villains outside of Toy Story movies have never been that great, and this one is not really that much different. While the latters ones feel particularly tacked on and unnecessary, they are a group of Pterodactyls, that have formed a cult, led by their leader Thunderclap who worship thunderstorms for some reason which is never quite fully explained, and I actually thought it was a bold move of Pixar to depict the dangers of cults in a family film, but I’m not sure it is fully realised and it’s kind of a waste of Steve Zahn’s talent, he plays the role very well but it’s an underwritten role. But with all those negatives, what really won me over with this film is it felt like the writers have known what Pixar films are good at, they treat the audience with intelligence, they are not going to pander to the audience in order to sell to kids and they are not going to do what films like Hotel Transylvania 2 did which is, leave out quiet moments because they are worried they will lose the attention span of the kids watching. I agree with a comment made by ‘Film Brain’ during one of his reviews that he believes that children are only as intelligent as we want them to be and when you make films for them like this you will probably see a generation of children who will want good quality programming and films that won’t just appeal to the lowest common denominator and will actually give us a warm hearts and plots that will last us forever. While The Good Dinosaur may not be that original and you can probably draw a lot of comparisons with a lot of other films I would argue that its plot fulfils this criteria very well and by the end of the film you feel a sense of accomplishment for its main character.

One of the dangers in doing a film like this is, if you get a lot of celebrity voices, the parents are often playing a game of ‘guess the celebrity voice’ which is something that has plagued films like the Shrek series and Ice Age movies. However, this film doesn’t have that problem, mainly because there are only a few well known voice actors in this and the only one that was really obvious was Sam Elliott in the role of the lead T Rex rancher Butch who once again does an excellent performance, but come on, it’s Sam Elliott, he’s memorable in terrible films, as Ghost Rider proved. In the lead we have Rayond Ochoa as the voice of Arlo and he delivers a fantastic performance, I really hope this film will give a boost to his career because I would like to see him do more. Jack Bright does an excellent job playing Spot, despite the fact he basically hasn’t got a single line of dialogue, but his job at making the sound effects for him are still excellent. I enjoyed A J Buckley and Anna Paquin as the other two T Rex’s Nash and Ramsey. Marcus Scribner and Maleah Nipay-Padilla were alright as Buck and Libby, but they weren’t really in the film long enough for me to get a feel for their performances. I seriously liked Jeffrey Wright in the role of Arlo’s father Poppa who, once again, unfortunately is not in the film long enough, the reason for which I will not give away, but I definitely welcomed him once again, giving an excellent performance. I also really enjoyed Frances McDormand’s performance as Arlo’s mother, Momma. The villains weren’t great, but they at least were acted well by Steve Zahn, Mandy Freund and Steven Clay Hunter, but these roles didn’t require amazing performances, so the cast feel even more under utilised, oh, and there’s even more tacked on villains during the T Rex scenes played by David Boat, Carrie Paff, Calum Grant and John Ratzenberger, who feel unnecessary, but at least they drive the plot along a lot more as a bunch of scavenger dinosaurs.

If there’s one thing The Good Dinosaur is amazing at, it’s the animation. This animation is gorgeous. This is some of the best animated 3D backgrounds I have ever seen in a film and the scenes with the fireflies really cement that. The only problem I had with the animation was that the dinosaurs and the other creatures seem very cartoony. It’s almost as if they have come out of an Ice Age sequel and they can clash with the almost photo realistic design of the backgrounds. This is a bit of distraction but at least both are animated pretty well and that’s really a minor nit pick. The animation also excellently conveys all the gannet of emotions the characters feel and that’s especially difficult considering that dinosaurs are not known for having expressive faces. There aren’t really any animation hiccups and I think if the film was being delayed for anything to do with the animation, the extra year paid off, because this film looks gorgeous. The water texture feels right, the snow feels accurate, the grass even feels like you could reach out and touch it, this is the kind of animation environment you want to escape into and it’s some excellent 3D animation. I saw the film in 3D and while occasionally it will go back and forth over whether it’s worth it or not. The film has some good 3D set pieces but without actively making it so that things have to fly at the camera but there are occasionally some serial events that make you forget the 3D is there altogether and a large family could end up paying a lot of money for 3D glasses that they may not get the full use out of. Granted it’s better that Inside Out’s 3D, but only by a short margin. I would say only see the 3D version if it suits your time frame better for when you can get the kids out of the house, otherwise it’s not essential to see this film in the 3D and you will be fine with the 2D version. I don’t reckon the animation will be in any way compromised without the extra dimension, but if you have to see the 3D version you should seriously check this out, I had a really good time watching this.

The Good Dinosaur is a good family film with a couple minor issues, and while I don’t feel it quite beats it’s predecessor Inside Out, it’s still a good movie and I would really recommend taking your family to see it this Christmas if they haven’t got Star Wars tickets. It feels like one of those films played at Christmas to give you a warm good hearted feel and that’s down to it’s good plot, great characters and it’s gorgeous animation even if the designs do feel like they slightly clash. It’s not the most original film in the world, but it’s well made, well directed and it’s clearly made with a lot of heart and soul and is designed to entertain both the kids and the adults watching. Keep an eye out for this film because I reckon it will stick around for a while. While the 3D is good and it had some good moments, though it’s hardly essential. The only major negative I had with this film was that it’s villains felt a bit tacked on and unnecessary.

So what were your thoughts on The Good Dinosaur? Did they match mine or have you got a different opinion on this film. I welcome any comments. My question for this week is:

“Did you like The Land Before Time and/or any of it’s sequels?”

Well that’s my last review of an animated movie in 2015. In 2016 I have got a lot of animated films to review and not just Anime, but for now the first animated film I’m certain I will be reviewing is probably going to be ‘Kung Fu Panda 3” which I am really looking forward to, but I would have to say that my DVD recommendations at the minute for animated films have been Song Of The Sea, The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur.

Next week I am reviewing a live action adaptation of a Japanese Anime. Next week I review both Attack on Titan Part 1 and Part 2, and don’t worry I am going to do both films in one article since they are being played together. Also don’t bother trying to see this film prior to the review because by the time this reviews been published the film has had it’s one day only screening, hopefully if you wanted to see it you got our facebook message and did get to a cinema in time.

Thanks for reading my review, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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