Good Dinosaur, The

Reviewed By alejandroariera
Posted 11/27/15 02:56:17

"A dinosaur loves his feral dog"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Is it fair to expect of every Pixar film the same high creative, visual and intellectual standards of its predecessors? Can we, once and for all, acknowledge that Pixar, like every major Hollywood studio before it, is bound to stumble once in a while? In other words, is it fair to walk into “The Good Dinosaur” —a film that took six years to make and whose release date was changed twice— and expect it to be as visually and intellectually challenging as the film that preceded it, “Inside Out”? Of course not.

Yes, we have been spoiled by Pixar and yes, they creatively struck out with “Cars 2” and “Monsters University.” But I would argue that by releasing two totally different films in the same year, Pixar once again makes a strong case for its versatility and vibrancy. Here is a studio capable of, in the same year, addressing questions of memory, psychology and human behavior in one film while telling in another a simple story of a little dinosaur boy forced to face his own fears as he confronts the powerful forces of nature. They are both the product of a studio that, frequently, taps into our sense of wonder while pulling at our heartstrings.

As now conceived by first-time director Peter Sohn and credited writer Meg LeFauve (Erik Benson, Kelsey Mann and the original director Bob Peterson also contributed to the story along the way), “The Good Dinosaur” is the perfect fusion of a classic Disney story with Pixar’s technical wizardry. The premise is quite simple: what if the meteorite that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago had never struck Earth and these dinosaurs had evolved into a simple agrarian society? It is into this world that Arlo (in the voice of Raymond Ochoa), the youngest son of two farming Apatosauruses, is born. Constantly teased by older brother Buck (Marcus Scribner) and mercilessly chased and harassed by his dad’s chickens, Arlo suffers from a severe inferiority complex.

His dad (Jeffrey Wright) has faith in him and entrusts Arlo with a task: to capture and kill the critter that has been stealing and eating the corn they are saving for winter. Arlo fails the test and so father and son chase after the culprit: a human boy that behaves like a feral dog. Tragedy strikes: they are both stuck in a storm and dad is swept away by a massive flood.

Days later, while helping his now tired mother pick up the crops, Arlo catches sight of the boy and chases after him. Swept by the currents of a nearby river, Arlo finds himself stranded in the middle of nowhere, far away from home, his only hope for survival that feral boy. They eventually bond as the kid, named Spot by Arlo, becomes his guide and bodyguard. But this is much more than an inverted “boy and his dog” story. For, with its awesome (one of those rare occasions in which this overused word seems appropriate), eye-opening, photo-realistic (for lack of a better term) portrayal of the American Northwest, “The Good Dinosaur” is also a paean to a magnificent land that could soon be potentially lost to us. The landscapes are simultaneously beautiful and terrifying, full of wonder and fraught with danger.

It is a land populated by cattle rustling T-Rexes —their leader memorably voiced by the almost mythical Sam Elliott who with this performance caps a magnificent year after his equally captivating performances in “Grandma” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams”—, storm venerating pterodactyls and a myriad assortment of insects, rodents and small reptiles. A land where the first signs of humanity hide sight unseen. “The Good Dinosaur” is also a rite of passage story as Arlo’s courage and fears are tested over and over again. You know how the story will end, but, as the cliché goes, it’s the journey that matters.

Death is a constant presence in the film as it was in such Disney classics as “Bambi” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” Insects and other creatures die or come close to dying in the most matter-of-fact ways. Some even tell wild tales about their close calls with the Grim Reaper. Death is a fact of life and Sohn and his writers tactfully handle the subject. Sohn balances this darkness with scenes full of sheer magic and poetry: Arlo and Spot surrounded by a cloud of fireflies as they bath the night sky with their green light; Arlo and Spot sharing their family history with sticks and circles in the ground; and the final image of a more mature Arlo literally leaving his mark in the family’s silo.

Special mention must be made of Mychael and Jeff Danna’s score: a fusion of country, ethnic and orchestral motifs, their music is as epic and exhilarating as these landscapes. It is one of the best movie scores of the year.

As the film reaches its conclusion, Sohn delivers another one of those emotional sucker punches so typical of Pixar, one that stands next to that final scene in “Toy Story 3” where Andy gives his toys to the little girl who lives down the block before he heads off to college, or the first 15 minutes of “Up.” In the end, when all is said and done, after you gawp at the pretty pictures and appreciate the intelligence with which Sohn and his tea, tackle some hefty themes in the context of a family film, what stays with you forever is that one scene where you had no choice but to pull out that handkerchief from your back pocket to wipe away that one or two or several tears.

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