The Good Dinosaur, 2015.
Directed by Peter Sohn.
Featuring the voice talents of Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Marcus Scribner, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Steve Zahn, Mandy Freund, Steven Clay Hunter, Anna Paquin and Sam Elliott.
In a world where dinosaurs and humans live side-by-side, an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend.
While The Good Dinosaur didn’t light the box office on fire when it was released last year, it’s a solid Pixar movie that shows the company still knows how to create a good story. And while Pixar’s home video releases aren’t as comprehensive as past editions, like its excellent Ultimate Toy Box collection for Toy Story and Toy Story 2, this Blu-ray + DVD + digital HD release is still pretty good.
The movie puts a unique twist on evolution by having the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs miss the planet. Eventually, they develop rudimentary forms of technology, such as methods for planting farms and storing food, and become capable of speaking English. (Hey, either buy into the initial conceit or try another movie.) Our main character, Arlo, is the runt compared to his fellow hatchlings on his parents’ farm, but he strives to prove himself.
Arlo’s opportunity arrives when his father tasks him with snaring and killing the animal that’s been raiding their food supplies, since winter is coming and they won’t be able to make it through the cold otherwise. When he discovers that the interloper is a human child, though, he can’t bring himself to kill the little boy. Then tragedy strikes and Arlo not only loses his father but also finds himself swept away from his family. He reconnects with the little boy and the two must depend on each other if they’re going to survive and find their families again.
The two regard each other warily at first, but eventually they form a strong relationship that demonstrates how humans and dinosaurs can co-exist in this alternate reality. During their quest, they run across a family of T Rexes who are ranchers and must battle a group of winged dinosaurs who would love to snag the little boy, named Spot by Arlo, for a meal.
The storyline is pretty standard fare, with the beats in the right places and the introduction of new characters at the correct moments, but those of us with kids don’t watch Pixar films because we’re expecting something that’s way off the beaten path. (I would argue, though, that sometimes the studio does an excellent job of hitting both adults and kids right between the eyes, as in the Toy Story films and Up.)
The Good Dinosaur also demonstrates how far Pixar’s technology has progressed since its early days. While the characters didn’t really require the studio to break much new ground, the scenery is photo-realistic. There were several moments when I wondered if the production team simply shot landscapes for their backgrounds, rather than build them in computers.
As I mentioned earlier, the bonus features on this Blu-ray aren’t at the level of Pixar releases from the olden days, but they still offer a good look at the making of the film. The centerpiece is an audio commentary with director Peter Sohn, story supervisor Kelsey Mann, supervising technical director Sanjay Bakshi, director of photography, lighting Sharon Calahan, and animation supervisor Mike Venturini. While group commentaries can sometimes devolve into chaotic messes, Sohn does a good job of orchestrating the proceedings, giving each participant a chance to weigh in when necessary. I had the impression that they planned out what they were going to say ahead of time, which was a good idea, since no one wants to hear people fumbling for things to talk about during a commentary.
Next, a series of featurettes chronicles the making of the film: True Lies About Dinosaurs, The Filmmakers’ Journey, Every Part of the Dinosaur, and Following the T Rex Trail. They total about 23 minutes and cover such topics as the decision to change evolution, how the characters were constructed, the stress and joy of making a movie under very tight deadlines, and the filmmakers’ trip to a real cattle ranch as part of their research for the family of T Rex ranchers sequence. A comment is made in The Filmmakers’ Journey that the story needed a reboot with a new team, which created the tight production schedule – I wish that had been elaborated on a bit.
The other bonus features include a six-minute piece about a dinosaur making competition at Pixar, three deleted scenes presented in their rough animated storyboard form, four minutes of the film’s characters goofing around, and a one-minute nugget with Arlo and Spot playing hide-and-seek. Sanjay’s Super Team, an animated short that played before The Good Dinosaur in theaters, is included too.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
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