Original Release: November 25, 2015
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Directed By: Peter Sohn
Notable Actors: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin, A. J. Buckley and Jeffrey Wright
Welcome to the future. It’s sometime in 2016. I’ve finished the Vault Disney project and I had so much fun doing it that I decided to do a new series, Vault Disney Pixar, and we watched all of those films and I wrote about them and several of you left comments as to how funny the pictures were or how wrong you thought I was about Cars 2 and we had a lovely time. I thought it a good time to retrieve this article though, since The Good Dinosaur has just released and you might be looking for more info on the film. Rest easy though, my future self, who seems like he’s doing pretty well, was happy to oblige and send this one back to us. So just how is The Good Dinosaur? Well, I’ll be happy to tell you. Keep in mind that while I will be trying very VERY hard to avoid spoilers, I can’t promise anything. Also, the internet is a bit sensitive to spoilers, so if that’s you and you don’t already know that this film is about dinosaurs and will yell at me when I tell you so, might be best to turn around right now. For the rest of you, here we go!
Production on The Good Dinosaur actually began in 2009. Based on an idea by Bob Peterson, he and Peter Sohn began the creation of the film with a release date of November 27, 2013 in mind. It was originally called The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs. Why this title didn’t stick, I’ll never know. By 2012, John Lasseter was talking up the plot, giving info on the fact that we’d be watching a story about cartoony dinosaurs which have evolved to a point of having farms and ranches and the sort. It was about a society of dinosaurs. We also found out that it would be something of a coming of age story.
In April 2012, the film was pushed back to May 30,2014. A full cast was announced including the likes of John Lithgow, Bill Hader, Frances McDormand and Neil Patrick Harris. All seemed well and good, with minor delays until in 2013, both the director and producer were pulled off the film. There was a belief that the story was not working. Many of the creators and developers liked the characters and the world quite a bit but found that parts of the story were simply broken. Pixar president Ed Catmull believed that by pulling Sohn off the project, it could get fresh eyes which might be able to fix the issues. By the end of the summer that year, the film was pushed back once more to November 25, 2015. Shortly after this, several members of the team were laid off and the focus of the project was shifted. Interesting to note is that The Good Dinosaur‘s release date was initially meant for Finding Dory. (In the future, we’ve already seen it and especially loved the part where Dory is found.)
By June 2015, almost the entire cast had changed and much of the story had been revised. Originally, there had been a focus on Arlo, the main character of the story, being an outcast, which made the other dinosaurs sort of like villains in how they did not include him. In the new version of the story, the climate and weather would play more as the villain, making us able to feel compassion for the dinosaurs as a whole, rather than only one of them. The film’s team traveled to Northwest America to look at different types of environments and landscapes and then used geographical mapping of these areas to create the world of the story. The idea was to make the world feel very big and very real. In many ways, this setting helps to paint Dinosaur as something of a Western drama. Elephants were also shot as they walked in order to animate Arlo, who, having four legs, was not always the simplest creature to animate.
At its most simple, The Good Dinosaur is a coming of age tale for anyone who’s ever felt smaller, weaker, more afraid or more vulnerable than everyone else. Arlo, son to Henry and Ida, has two siblings who are much bigger and stronger than he is. Poppa Henry explains early on that in order to make your mark in this world, you have to do something bigger than yourself. This ‘mark’ is represented by a physical footprint that the siblings get to make on a food storage container when they’ve accomplished something great. Arlo, who is terrified of any and everything, has a hard time making his mark and when his father asks him to kill the critter that has been stealing their food. Things go from bad to worse.
I should probably explain that this story takes place in a world where the meteor which killed off the dinosaurs never actually hit Earth. They just continued being the dominant species, but evolved. Herbivores became farmers while we see T-rexes later on who became ranchers. There’s a sophistication to these dinosaurs and an ecosystem to their world that is really fun to invest time in. I explain all this to tell you that the food stealing critter in question is a young human child by the name of Spot. Through a series of overly depressing plot points, Arlo and Spot end up stranded in the middle of nowhere together, swept away by a storm. This is where our story really begins.
I won’t get too plot heavy here as I really don’t want to spoil things, but there’s something really special about watching the relationship between Arlo and Spot. In some ways, it feels a bit like Finding Nemo. Arlo doesn’t want Spot around but at the end of the day, Spot is better at surviving and Arlo, who is terrified, finds that he needs protection. Arlo is a fantastic main character but the real star of the show is Spot, who like Dory, Doug the Dog, and many other sidekicks throughout Pixar past, really has the best and funniest scenes of the film. He never speaks, but often howls like a little wolf and he shakes his foot like a dog when he’s found whatever he’s hunting. It’s endearing and really makes it hard to hate him. That’s sort of the point.
The cast of side characters Arlo and Spot meet along the way range from amazingly funny to slightly too over the top. Peter Sohn plays Forrest Woodbrush, a Styracaosaurus who keeps odd critters on his horns for protection and while he only gets a short bit of screen time, he manages to be one of the funniest, best parts of the film. On the other hand, several velociraptors who play out as thieving hillbillies stay with us a bit too long, making the always typical ‘hillbillies are dumb’ jokes which seem a bit too cliche for a Pixar movie. All in all though, these side characters are never with us too long, keeping things very focused on Arlo and Spot, which is good as they are by far the strongest elements of the film.
As you would expect from a Pixar film, there are plenty of tear jerking moments. A part of the film in which Arlo and Spot compare families by using sticks to show the members of their packs had me gushing tears in the theater and the end of the film is also incredibly powerful. It’s beautiful but at times might be a little too real for some. That’s the thing about this film. It’s doesn’t really sugar coat the darkness in the world. Death happens fairly often in the film and we even watch young Spot decapitate a large beetle. There’s a bit of gruesome here which, while it really helps to create the dread in this world, might be a bit too much for some families. That being said, when a character met their end and I was crying and shocked, a small child in the theater merely called out “Oh NOES!” in the silent moment that followed. Soooo, maybe I’m being too sensitive.
If I have one complaint about Good Dinosaur it’s that it isn’t overly original, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that Pixar has a track record for being very original so when they release a film that I can say “Oh this part is like that or that part is like this other thing,” it’s a bit alarming as that’s not something you can really do with Ratatouille or Up or Toy Story. There’s a familiarity to this story and while there’s definitely enough here to warrant re-telling the same coming of age story, it does have a bit of a “been there done that” vibe that left me wanting the brave new story themes of something like Inside Out. For those of you in the past, you’ll see my thoughts on Inside Out sometime next year, but mark my words, it’s a captivating read.
The Good Dinosaur is a huge cut above most animated films, even if it falls a bit short of other Pixar greats. It’s good for the whole family, though be warned that there are some dark themes. Perhaps you’ll be more shocked than your kids though. There’s a lot of heart here and a great lesson for any kid who’s ever felt like they weren’t the strongest or toughest. There are also plenty of laughs and a beautiful world to fall in love with. If the film even seems remotely interesting to you, I suggest you give it a chance. While there are elements that are reminiscent of things we’ve seen before, the package as a whole feels highly original. Now past dwellers, I urge you to look bravely into the future. Treat this Vault Disney with care as being mean to it or leaving naughty comments might disrupt the timeline. Best just to share it and like it and such. Or as Spot would say, “HOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWLLLLLL!!!”
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Note that while I always take my own pictures, the fact that this is still in theaters made that impossible so all the images seen here are promotional pictures found online.
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ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head over HERE and check it out!
Categories: Vault Disney