Luis504170 Show full post »
I've just watched this film for the second time, and I think I'm a little better able to express my thoughts about it, which synch with a lot of the comments already here: astounding visuals, story... didn't really grab me as much as it might have.

I think my cynicism started to come out when Henry died. I've seen reviews that compare TGD to Bambi or the Lion King, presumably because of this event, and I can't disagree. (Just replace stampeding wildebeest with a flash flood) Within Pixar's own stable it also feels a lot like the setup for Finding Nemo or Up. Would you believe I hadn't seen Finding Nemo until recently? In fact, I watched it for the first time just before this second viewing of TGD, and the fact jumped out that Marlin's and Arlo's character arcs are very similar, almost too similar: traumatised by a family member's death, and going on a long journey to get over the subsequent fear.
Sorry to say, but it also made me think about how most other Pixar films are about family and loss, which didn't help matters. Not that it's a bad way to set up drama and pathos, but I think the cut 'n' paste here gave me that 'hey, waitaminnit!' moment. A family member in a Pixar film is like a redshirt in Star Trek. Uh-oh guys, there's a happy family and we're just a few minutes into the runtime - taking bets on which one of them gets it!

With Henry, I'm not sure that his death serves any purpose except as that slightly formulaic - even cheap - emotional punch. I'm a little cynical about how quickly it was pushed into the plot, too. Critter, escape, chase, flood, dead. Hm, well, goobye Henry, I suppose.
It may be to highlight Arlo's fear of storms, but Arlo's already well-established as being afraid of his own shadow. I'm not sure that a dead parent was necessary to make lightning and rushing walls of water even more threatening. I think it works best in the scene where Arlo and Spot relate to eachother, but then it's Spot's turn to have missing parents from out of nowhere. It feels a little bit forced...
I've seen the comments in the PixarPost blog that Arlo's situation wouldn't seem as serious if his poppa was out there looking for him, but I'm not sure about that either. There are three others in the family, for one thing. At least, couldn't you just let him off with an injured leg or something? That'd still leave the family in the same situation, with one less back to bring in the harvest before the first snow, and Arlo blaming himself and Spot.

It's a paint-by-numbers feeling (with missing colours and blurry numbers) that carries into the rest of the story, I feel. Dinosaurs survive the asteroid and then... what? From the beginning with the scratchy fiddle tune and the homesteading dinosaur family, I guessed there would be a kind of western theme, and the - admittedly ridiculously awesome - tyrannosaur ranchers confirmed that. I wondered if the character designers were channeling Jack Palance, there.
So... the dinosaurs are farmers and ranchers, with humans scurrying around as animals, with a kind of Planet of the Apes vibe. But then what? As others have said, there's not much made of the scenario or dinosaur culture, to suggest that the film had to be about dinosaurs. (I say that as a dinosaur nut who never grew up) Apart from the chuckles about a kid acting exactly like a dog - but I'm not sure that's enough to carry the premise.
In fact, the bit that pulled in a few complaints - the pterosaurs combing for flood victims - I kind of liked, because it's based on something that real pterosaurs would have done. Otherwise, the film might as well have been about a real kid with an actual dog.

The story feels a bit disjointed overall. It's got western themes, but is it also trying to be a road movie? The film seems to jump between the encounters that suggest that. The 'controversial' hallucination scene is over in fifteen seconds, and that's that. The pet collector there for a minute or two and just seems to exist to make Arlo come up with a name for the critter. Arlo galloping across lush landscapes is about... Arlo galloping across lush landscapes. (There's another thing: the settings might be almost indistinguishable from reality, if not for the neon-green aardmanosaurus in the middle of them. I've loved Aardman animation since I was little, but I don't know if the look meshes here) Even the pterosaurs turning up again at the end doesn't seem to logically follow from their first appearance. I think that's another reason I like the scenes with the tyrannosaurs: no offence to Spot, but I think they add the most to the actual plot and Arlo's growth.

But even then, is the film about Arlo conquering his fear, or coming to terms with his dad's death, or making buddies with a hairy little creature? I'd prefer to say fear. Going back to the comment about the 'necessity' of Henry's death, I think that plot point muddied the waters a little. For all that some people dislike the hallucination and the pterosaurs, I think the scene with Henry's 'ghost' makes me most uncomfortable. Not because it's spooky, but it just doesn't seem to fit the story. The pterosaurs fly off with Spot, with Arlo in hot pursuit, then we take a weird time out where Arlo's dead father tries to take him away somewhere, aaand we're back to Arlo in hot pursuit of the pterosaurs. It might be meant as closure, but I can't help but feel it's a strange moment injected into a strange point of the story.
As for making buddies... I might cop some flak for this, but when I think about it, Spot feels like a kind of MacGuffin. He's the thing to chase that causes Henry's death; he's the thing to chase that gets Arlo washed downriver; he's the thing to chase to prove that Arlo's conquered his fear. Not that he's not cute or funny, but again, the communication between the two about their families is the only real connection point I feel with him, and when he gets his new family.

And that sums up how I feel about The Good Dinosaur overall. This might sound like one long whine or list of complaints, but it's not that I think it's a bad film (not when looking at an average cinema lineup), just one that I think suffered from it's production problems.
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(I say that as a dinosaur nut who never grew up)
(There's another thing: the settings might be almost indistinguishable from reality, if not for the neon-green aardmanosaurus in the middle of them.)
I've watched The Good Dinosaur again a couple of times (hey, I wouldn't if it was that bad) and these notes became a bit more relevant. I've been into dinosaurs, art, and dinosaur art for years, and this has it's advantages and disadvantages when it comes to watching The Good Dinosaur.
The character designs in the film vary in my opinion (Nyctosaurs with enormous snaggly teeth and squash-faced ceratopsians jump out) but our protagonist, the dinosaur we look the most at, looks very strange to my eyes. We don't and can't know some details about how most dinosaurs looked, but we do know quite a bit about the bones, shape and structure of apatosaurus in particular, if that's what Arlo's supposed to be; even compared to other long-necked sauropods, and there are a lot of specific details that could have been applied. But in the end, to be frank, the only resemblance Arlo has to apatosaurus is a longish neck and four feet. The shape of the head, the shape of the feet (not interchangeable with green elephants), even the shape of the neck and joints of the legs - nothing recognisable. To my eyes he looks more like a green camel with a face like Homer Simpson! It might sound harsh but that's how extreme the difference seems. After the incisive animal caricatures in films like Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and Up, I'm surprised by the apparent lack of legendary Disney research in TGD. It's as if the initial concept sketches weren't developed, just fed straight in to Renderman.
And again, the bright green cartoon dinosaur (among others) jars with the almost totally realistic backgrounds and sets. It's enough to push me out of the story, and wonder about the disparity in effort between the two.
This is another reason why I like the tyrannosaur ranchers so much: still cartoony and abstracted, but they have recognisably tyrannosaurian features - as opposed to allosaurs and others - especially around the head. It's like these characters were given to someone who drove to a natural history museum - or cracked open a search engine.
Oh, and I have to express some outright disgust at the design of the raptor rustlers. Pop culture fans have a stubborn resistance to the idea of feathered dinosaurs, responding with 'ruining my childhood', 'look like giant chickens', 'not the vicious killosaurs of Jurassic Park' and other trite complaints. It's thought that part of the problem is that some of the earlier depictions of feathered dinosaurs, from the late 90's/early 2000's, were just so awful. The same designs ripped off from Jurassic Park and old dinosaur books, but with a few bedraggled feathers at the back of the head, or something that looked like an explosion in a feather duster factory. It's still an uphill struggle against 'less-informed' illustrators, and their commissioners, to put across the view of dino plumage as extensive and organised. Like 'birds with teeth' rather than the phrase that became a minor meme: 'lizard-faced monsters in gorilla suits'.
And then, in 2015, Pixar comes along with 'raptors' who look like lizard-faced monsters in gorilla suits, something half-plucked on a butcher's slab, or like they were caught up in that factory explosion. Gah! Lurleen in particular looked like Madam Mim from The Sword In The Stone, in her dragon form, but gone skinny and purple. It didn't help at all that they drawled like hillbillies, too.
(Ironically, Pixar portrayed feathered dinos so much better in a previous film - Kevin, in Up.)
Spot, sorry to say, got less relatable too. It's that 'kid acting like a dog' thing mentioned elsewhere in this forum. It's cute for five minutes, but for an hour and a half? After a while you start to wonder if he's meant to be human or not. When the howling started, and when he started to out-scent tyrannosaurs (fun fact: thought to have a tremendous sense of smell) I started to wonder if the writers forgot it. Pixar has a good track record of picking up conceits (What if toys were alive? Why do monsters hide in kids' closets? What if there were little people in your head, controlling your emotions?) and spinning great stories out of them, but in this case was it a daydream too far?
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