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The Good Dinosaur - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Good Dinosaur
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Animation: A+

I'm not dumb enough to say that animated movies need to be realistic. That's kind of the point of animation: you can do whatever the hell you want. But if you want your movie to work, it should still make sense within its own parameters. The Good Dinosaur really doesn't. But if you can manage to turn off your brain to such things, and take the movie as the escapism that it is, you'll find yourself charmed in spite of it.

Particularly for a Pixar film, The Good Dinosaur has a lot of problems. It takes a truly fascinating concept -- what if that asteroid that killed the dinosaurs actually bypassed the Earth? -- and fails to live up to its potential. These are real scientific concepts first-time director Peter Sohn and his team of six writers are playing with. I'm no scientist, but I know enough to know that species with no opposable thumbs would ever develop agriculture and literally be tending to a farm.

But that's what this family of Apatosaurs does. They apparently know no other Apatosaurs, or even other dinosaurs, which seems odd, but I guess we need to keep the runtime down. They use their teeth for tools and their faces to dig trenches for seeding, and even have things like baskets, but God knows how the hell they weaved the straps.

I know, I know, I'm being too literal. Kids aren't going to care about these things. Mind you, very small children will be easily frightened by this film, which features the death of a parent; scary pterodactyl characters; and even a human boy literally tearing the head off a bug as big as himself with his own teeth. Pixar was long characterized by speaking on equally effective but different levels to both adults and children, however, and it misses that mark here.

Still, The Good Dinosaur winds up being entertaining in spite of itself -- even with T-rexes that herd bison-like animals instead of eating a lost young Apatosaur trying to find his way back home. That Apatosaur is our main character, Arlo, who has befriended the "critter" we recognize as human but acts more like a wild dog, whom Arlo names Spot. After the two of them get swept far down a river that runs near the farm, they spend most of the movie helping each other find their way back to Arlo's home, to his two siblings and his widowed mother (voiced by Francis McFormand; Dad is Jeffrey Wright).

Although the script is by far this movie's weakest element, it does contain some welcome and weird humor. (I found that bit with the bug head delightfully shocking.) But if there is anything that makes The Good Dinosaur worth watching, it's the animation, which is spectacular. In terms of story, this movie lowers the usually extremely high bar set by early Pixar films, but the animation actually raises it. The landscapes are so realistic they often look like live footage of real places. These images are consistently stunning, which makes it all the more disconcerting to see characters drawn with such cartoony simplicity. The dinosaurs have impressively detailed skin texture, but their overall look is still jarringly at odds with the detail of the world they inhabit.

It's almost too bad this was released the same year as the definitively superior (and thus far the best movie of the year), Inside Out -- which, by the way, may be total fantasy but has true integrity with its own rules. It offers new ways of looking at how we experience the real world. The Good Dinosaur, by contrast, takes our knowledge of our real-world history and turns it into something irksome at worst and befuddling at best. Those feral humans would die of exposure living out in the wild, damn it!

But, okay, the characters are still fun. Sam Elliott is particularly wonderful as Butch the T-Rex, even though he totally would have eaten Arlo and Spot both. There's plenty of well-executed action that is impeccably animated, which allows the movie to sweep you up into its dumb story and just focus on this backward couple of young friends. There are so many ways this story doesn't work, but it still works in the way that counts: as family entertainment. As long as your kids aren't really little or prone to being scared, anyway.

Evolution gets bizarrely mixed up in THE GOOD DINOSAUR.

Overall: B+
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