The Good Dinosaur (3D)
Cert: PG / 101 mins / Dir. Peter Sohn / Trailer
Well okay, the general lack of full-on Disney/Pixar promotional buzz (of the level we've come to expect, at least) should perhaps be an indicator, but Peter Sohn's new flick is a real mixed bag. That's not to say it's down to both good and bad aspects jostling for position, but more that the film is full of conflicting elements which can't quite work together. Either would be fine, but not both…
The first and most prominent clash comes between the exquisite, photo-realistic environments the pre-historic characters inhabit, versus the hyper-cartoon design of those characters themselves (imagine a sleeked-down, hi-res textured re-imagining of the Chewits monster). Following audibly close on the heels of this disconnect is a full orchestral score which evokes Howard Shore's Celtic-infused Lord of the Rings soundtrack for the first and third acts, but moves jarringly into Frontier Western mode for the film's central section (as does the screenplay to be fair, but even so).
But the rift which does the most damage is that the movie's scripted gags are nowhere near as funny or inventive as its visual ones, which becomes a metaphor for the issues facing the whole movie. With the main story set several million years after an asteroid (which was meant to cause the Dino-apocalypse) whizzes harmlessly past the Earth, saurian-culture has developed to the point where the creatures speak to one another as well as using crude tools and farming techniques (as a concept, it works for the film, trust me). Humans are also on the scene by then, but haven't developed to the point of fluid verbal communication. This creates a juxtaposition where the feral human child which the Apatosaur Arlo befriends is, to all intents and purposes, a pet dog (albeit a self aware dog with problem-solving intelligence. Plus, y'know, his character is called Spot).
And that's where the necessary communication barrier between the two lead characters leads to some beautiful visual film-making; storytelling in its purest form which can be enjoyed by audiences regardless of age, verbal dexterity or language. The best scenes by far are the ones with no dialogue, and they're where the story feels most at home.
But there aren't enough of these moments for the film to flourish. The script, as it stands, is a little too unwieldy for its youngest audience members, but too simplistic for their older counterparts. I get the feeling that if The Good Dinosaur had been made as a dialogue-free 'silent' film, it would have been more challenging for the film-makers and far more rewarding for the audience as a result (cf Shaun The Sheep). The film is still thoroughly mawkish and manipulative of course, but it doesn't even do that as well as you know a Disney piece should.
Maybe my expectations are too high? Maybe the House of Mouse has spoiled us all in recent years? The Good Dinosaur is by no means a bad movie, but it's not Disney/Pixar's A-Game. This feels like February-half-term filler which has been shunted into the holiday-season schedule in lieu of something more focused…
But ultimately, I know that it doesn't really matter what a middle-aged cynic like me thinks about this film; The Good Dinosaur is aimed squarely at the younger crowd. Although when a considerable number of those chatter and shriek throughout the performance, it tells me that Pixar can't even keep the attention of their target audience, either*1…
With the best will in the world, it ain't.
Oh, it's a "£4 on DVD" type-film.
I don't think it achieves all it could…
Why, The Good Dinosaur features the golden tones of none other than John 'Derlin' Ratzenberger, himself…
*1 And as I've noted on several occasions, the sustained attention-holding of the youngest audience members is the real test for any kids-film.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.