Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Good Dinosaur Review

It's been a really long journey for The Good Dinosaur to make it to this point. Production for the movie started way back in 2009 and the movie was supposed to originally debut in theaters in May of 2014. But yet the production of the movie just hit a brick wall as all kinds of chaos ensued leading the movie to be pushed back until now. If you were wondering why the world didn't get a Pixar movie last year, that's your reason. Pixar has been very consistent in releasing their animated movies and the last time they had missed a year was in 2005. That was an eight-year streak they were on that got broken. But do you know what, sometimes in life stuff just happens. Movie making is a very rough business and even the best of the best run into obstacles every once in a while. The Good Dinosaur was almost completely trashed, but yet they persevered and got a movie onto the big screen despite all the chaos. There's a good lesson to be learned there. And do you know what, production issues don't always equate to a bad movie. There's a lot of great movies that went through a ton of productions issues where everyone fought through and ended up pulling a rabbit out of the hat. Unfortunately this is not one of those cases. The Good Dinosaur comes to theaters feeling very bandaged and scarred.

The idea of this movie is actually a very good one. Pixar is really good at coming with super genius ideas for movies and this was another golden idea. Here we have a premise for a dinosaur movie in which we ponder the question of what would've happened if the meteor that killed all the dinosaurs missed the earth. We all love dinosaurs. We all love Pixar. I can just imagine what the meeting looked like when this idea was suggested. Eyes must've lit up. Yes, the idea of dinosaurs and humans living together has been done before with Jurassic Park. But that's an instance where humans brought the dinosaurs back. We've even had other instances where we time travel back to the time of the dinosaurs. I can't think of a specific example for that one, but I know it's been done before in a movie and/or TV show of some sort. Dinosaurs never going extinct in the first place is a genius idea that you can do a ton with and I don't think it's an idea that actually been explored The problem is what do you do with that premise. I don't know what happened behind the scenes, but if I were to guess, I'd say this is where they got hung up on and it doesn't seem like they ever really came to a solid decision because the execution of this brilliant idea is pretty sloppy.

First and foremost, if you're going to tackle the subject of dinosaurs, you've gotta do something that's unique because as much as we all love dinosaurs, dinosaurs have been done in Hollywood many, many times. The idea of the meteor missing the earth is definitely unique, but what actually happened with the story is the most unoriginal idea that they could've come up with when it comes to dinosaurs. Let's take a couple of examples. The Land Before Time. Little Foot is separated from his family because his mother dies and he and a group of other random dinosaurs are on a journey to the Great Valley. Dinosaur. Aladar is a dinosaur growing up on an island of lemurs when one day a meteor hits the island, killing most of the family, and causing Aladar and the remaining lemurs to join a group of dinosaurs travelling to find the Nesting Grounds. Let's now go away from dinosaurs but keep the prehistoric theme. Ice Age. A huge herd of prehistoric animals are travelling south to avoid the Ice Age. Sid the sloth falls behind and one thing lead to another and before too long we have an odd group of animals and baby human travelling to reach a certain destination. The Croods. A family of cavemen have their home destroyed, so they go on a journey together to find a new home, collecting an odd bunch of creatures along the way.

Finding a theme here? We can even look at a fellow animal movie The Lion King where Simba's father dies, causing him to be separated from his home where he forms an odd group consisting of a lion, a warthog, and a meerkat. The plot eventually leads to Simba on a journey home. So please, Pixar, if you're going to do a dinosaur movie, let's do something different. Let's not have a story where a young dinosaur experiences the death of a parent or other family, or perhaps having his home destroyed, thus causing him to be separated from his home and having to go on a journey with an odd assortment of animals to either find his old home again or a new home to live in. It's been done before. PLEASE?!?!?! Something new? Is it too much to ask for? I mean, you have a brilliant initial premise. Pull out your Pixar magic and do something new and creative to go along with your idea. No? You're not going to be creative? In fact you're going to do another variation of the plot that's been done before a hundred times? Oh. Well that sucks. I wanted something different. I wanted something new. I wanted something super creative because I know Pixar has come up with a ton of unique ideas.

Here's the other problem. If you're going to make the decision to follow the same exact formula done in every other dinosaur or prehistoric movie, then at the very least do it well. I'm not going to say that this movie is bad. It's not. It's a fine movie. There are a lot of really fun moments and several really good characters. But remember all those movies that I brought up to prove the point that this movie is very unoriginal? All of them are better movies. They are refined. They are focused. They know what they want to accomplish. They provide powerful messages that hit you emotionally. The Good Dinosaur is just all over the place. The whole first act is completely lifeless and boring. When our main dinosaur finally establishes a friendly connection with this human creature that acts like a dog, it gets really interesting and I really love the two of them as characters, but their journey goes in about a thousand different directions. It's like Pixar had a ton of ideas of what to do, but they couldn't settle one specific direction, so they did them all. Individually these moments are actually pretty darn funny and clever, but as a whole the movie just feels like a mess. There's no focus. There's no direction. There's no real purpose.

Pixar is always really good at having a few Pixar moments, if you know what I mean. Moments that are super emotional and touching. In fact I saw a meme or a comment somewhere talking about all the Pixar movies and how they make you realize that toys have feelings, bugs have feelings, monsters have feelings, cars have feelings, fish have feelings, feelings have feelings, and so on and so forth. Well now you can add to that list that dinosaurs have feelings because The Good Dinosaur still manages to have several of those moments, especially at the end. But overall, it didn't pack as big of an emotional punch as other movies. Another thing that Pixar is good at is making movies that kids and adults both fall in love with. Their movie from earlier this year, Inside Out, was a great example of this as it had a powerful message that probably hit adults stronger than it did kids. The Good Dinosaur falls short with this. This is a Pixar film that seems like it's directed just at kids. Which I guess is fine. Disappointing on my end, but if the target audience is kids, then I have to be honest. Everything that I've complained about thus far are things that kids won't even care about. Kids are going to watch this movie and have a blast from beginning to end. They're going to love the characters. They're going to laugh at all the jokes. They won't care if the story is a retread of a bunch of other better movies. They'll still love it. But as an adult who likes Pixar movies that are good for all ages, this is a slight disappointment.

I certainly can't leave this review without talking about the animation in this movie. There's two separate aspects to cover when it comes to this. The characters and the scenery. First off, I'm going to talk about the scenery because holy freaking cow this is a fantastic. There are several times in the movie where it shows a close up shot of the water or the rocks or the trees that quite honestly looks like they took an actual camera out into the wilderness somewhere and took some shots. It looks real. It's some of the best animation that I've ever seen as I was just blown away the entire time. Even in the moments where I knew and could tell that it was obviously animated, the details of the water, the dirt, the sky, the clouds, the trees, the mountains, the waterfalls, and everything regarding scenery is just fantastic. If the Oscar for best animated feature were to be awarded to the movie based solely on the animation, this should win hands down. Just as long as you ignore the creatures, that is. That's the other thing I wanted to talk about. All the creatures are very cartoonish. Like to the extreme. There was no effort to make these dinosaurs look real as this was an obvious stylistic choice. I get the idea here. This is a kids movie only this time. But still. I felt the contrast between the amazing scenery and the cartoonish characters was a bit distracting. It's like the dinosaurs didn't belong in this animated world that was created.

Is this a bad movie? No. It's not. And if it was done by any other studio than Pixar, I may have been a little nicer with this review because there were a lot of good things that this movie had going for it. However, when I go into a Pixar movie, I expect greatness out of them because that's what I have received time and time again. That feeling of greatness just wasn't there this time around. It's just a decent, fun movie that kids will love and parents will get a few chuckles out of. Movies like this are fine. But that's not what I'm used to from Pixar. When push comes to shove, I keep thinking back to all the production issues that this movie went through and overall I'm going to give them a pass this time. Like I said, even the best filmmakers or the best studios have their rough times. Sometimes you'll have a great idea in your head, but when you go to work on it things just don't work out as planned. When things like that happen, you just gotta pick yourself back up and move forward. This isn't a great film. I think Pixar knows this isn't a great film. But do you know what, this film was almost scrapped altogether, but they persevered and through all the trouble and headaches, they got a final product put together. Good for them. Now it's time to move on and do better the next time and I think they will. The trailer for Finding Dory is already out and I think we're going to get great things from that. As far as The Good Dinosaur goes, I'm going to give it a 7/10.

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