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Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Good Dinosaur (Release Date: 11-25-2015)

        As I perhaps too often reiterate on this site, movies are BY FAR the artistic medium that appeals to the most senses. Books engage one's reading ability and imagination, while music plays with one's ears and instinctive emotional reactions, fine arts doing much of the same, but with eyeballs. Motion pictures do a little bit of everything, which is not to say that they are a superior art form, and might just mean the very opposite. Where other endeavors are allowed to focus or specialize, movies are required to keep all their plates spinning at once, and occasionally in a fashion where each singular element only casually interacts with another. The Good Dinosaur, the latest from the storytelling savants at Pixar Studios, brings this notion to my attention like no American picture since Life of Pi has presented. They both ask the same, simple question; how accomplished do you have to be in one aspect to render the rest superfluous?

        Taking place in an alternate universe wherein that fateful asteroid never pummeled earth, and dinosaurs continue to roam the planes, our story follows Arlo (voiced in his youth by Jack McGraw, then by Raymond Ochoa in adolescence), the runt in a litter of three Apatosauruses whose apatite for adventure matches his meek stature. Gently doted upon by his loving father (Jeffrey Wright), Arlo spends his childhood trying to 'make his mark,' a family tradition accomplished early in life by both of his siblings. Tasked with ridding their land of a crop-devouring menace, Arlo manages to capture the thief, but is shaken by fear when the burglar turns out to be a young, feral human. His eventual pursuit of the wordless homosapien takes Arlo far away from home, and the two ban together in an effort to bring Arlo back to his family.

        It's easy to argue that every story has already been told, and the best that we can hope for is a unique twist on the familiar, but Pixar as a company would seemingly disagree. Besides literally revolutionizing the way that animated films are created with their very first effort (Toy Story, which celebrated its 20th birthday just last Sunday), the Disney subsidiary relays their narratives in a breathtakingly unique fashion, continuously discovering little pockets wherein subversion can exist. Compared to the gutsy moves made by many in their library of classics, The Good Dinosaur is both immediately and remarkably tame, which is saying something for an American kid's flick that opens with a short that celebrates Hinduism, and even includes a psychedelic trip for our two prehistoric protagonists. Their rebel spirit certainly isn't dead, but for almost all of The Good Dinosaur, it's relegated to the sidelines, waiting eagerly to be subbed in.

        What takes the place of Pixar's 'edge' is a dispiritingly bland tale of a timid animal who must fight back against both beasts and nature in order to both find his way to safety, and realize his full potential. In other words, the majority of the film plays like a warmed-over The Lion King... or Finding Nemo... or The Jungle Book... or A Bug's Life... should I keep going? Announced back in 2009, The Good Dinosaur represents only the second time that a Pixar offering made that fateful march through Hollywood's famed 'Production Hell' on its way to the silver screen. Original director Bob Peterson, co-helmer of the studio's best film to date (Up), walked away from the project in the summer of 2013, mere months before the flick's originally stated release date, resulting in reportedly massive re-writes that took place deep into 2014, and resulted in a complete overhaul of the original voice cast. All this to say, the movie was destined to be a half-baked offering, and perhaps would have never seen the light of day if it weren't for the ace up its sleeve.

        The Good Dinosaur is the most photorealistic animated feature film ever created, full-stop. The wide vistas and rolling hills that accompany Arlo's every move are clearly the movie's main character, and chief reason for existence. Most Beautiful Animated Film of All Time is a much harder prize to hand out, as it concerns preferences between eras, styles, and a spectrum of impressionism. What we're talking about here is something completely different; animated water has never looked so wet, and CGI mountains have never been quite as rough or loomed so large. It strikes the eyes as a step forward in technology much the way Avatar amazed the pupils back in 2009, but if you want to sneak a peak at all that majesty, you'll have to sit through a tale so brazenly undercooked that you can still see the pink in the middle. The Good Dinosaur is sort of like Arlo himself, a glorious, towering beast of a thing desperate to find a journey worth justifying its existence. It should have kept looking.

Grade: B- 

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