While The Good Dinosaur is a benign title, evoking images of a lovable (not extinct in this film), creatures, the 3D animation of this film seems to be a big part of its appeal. Though Fortune's in-house film critic shares his concern about the rating, and complains about its lack of distinction, The Good Dinosaur earned itself a respectable six out of 10 stars.

At the turn of the millennium there seemed to be a boom in animated movies. The genre, which Pixar has familiarized, went on to inspire a sensation within film goers that almost always resulted in envious box office returns; envious because, almost every other production studio decided to create their own 3D animated movies. Some were successful, others were not, but Pixar continued as if it was the only animation studio in town by making some of the greatest movies ever. In successive years, they gave us some of cinemas rarest gems, such as: Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up. It seemed like they had an unfailing formula, which is to work really hard on a movie for a long time with all of the studio’s personnel contributing; and only released one film per year. And this made their movies equally fun and equally smart, a situation which is almost impossible to achieve. But over the years, something happened. I am not sure what that is but their movies – with the exception of 2010’s exceptional Toy Story 3 – simply dwindled in quality, they lost their freshness and affability. At some point their films started to look pretentious and clichéd. But all was not lost because this year they gave us two conceptually bold movies, Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. Whereas the former was commendably executed, the latter, not very much so.

For some reason Edna Mall’s phone number does not work lately. All it does is ring and ring and ring and, on occasion one hears the busy signal. As for their website, it rarely provides up to date information. So, the only way to know what is showing is to go to Matti Cinema and risk the disappointment of finding out that there is nothing new or call Afalagi, a business directory. The latter alternative is a bummer because the company charges two Birr for every minute, as if regular phone charges are not expensive enough. So, when I called Afalagi, a female voice answered (I have never encountered a male operator for some reason) before there was even a ring tone and asked how I was doing. I said I was jolly and asked what was on the menu at Matti to which she replied The Good Dinosaur, and added, with an air of pride, “in 3D”, as if this last bit of information would guarantee I go see the film. As if 3D is not the worst thing to have happened to cinema since Ed Wood.

The film starts without a fuss. We see a rock in space. It gets closer to another rock and finally pushes that rock out of its orbit. That rock starts to wander; it has just become an asteroid, but not much long after, it starts to gain some speed. It hurls itself towards a blue and green planet. The shot changes and we see a number of dinosaurs grazing and minding their own businesses on that planet. At this point, we realize that this must be the same asteroid that wiped out all the dinosaurs from earth’s existence. But all is not as it seems because the asteroid misses the planet and the dinosaurs shrug off the fact that they were almost wiped out and continue with their animalistic duties. Thus, The Good Dinosaur is a film that takes place in an alternate universe where dinosaurs are still around.

With the asteroid factor behind them, the dinosaurs develop a conscious mind. They build houses and begin to live as families. Furthermore, the herbivores especially, become agriculturally astute. They become independent of hunting or gathering and start to depend on food production. They plow, plant, irrigate and harvest in a seasonal manner, just like human beings. We learn all of this through a family of Apatosaurus dinosaurs. They are five in all: a grandfatherly father, a subdued mother, a loud sneaky daughter and two sons. One of the two sons is oversized and confident while the other, Arlo, the exact opposite of his brother, is the star of this film.

Arlo has a hard time fitting in with his family. They are all so brave and fearless they can easily accomplish whatever it is they have set out to do. Arlo on the other hand is always afraid of going the extra mile; which is why his father, after a bit of advice and consolation, gives him the purposeful job of catching a cricket. A cricket to dinosaurs is a small human being who runs around stealing the food they have cultivated and stored. Arlo catches the cricket that is terrorizing their field but could not bring himself to killing it. This indirectly contributes to Arlo’s father’s death and subsequently to Arlo’s being lost from his home. First on his own and then with the help of the “cricket”, he tries to find his way back home.

The Good Dinosaur is one of the most beautifully animated movies I have ever seen. It is full of landscapes that are gorgeous, have a lot of depth and are lustrously coloured. The characters themselves are drawn out quite believably with their own quirks and gestures. Their skin in some shots could be seen with lots of lush texture. And the human boy, named Spot in the film, is made out to look and feel so real – while also being exceptionally caricature like – it is a triumph of digital animation.

But for all of this, the movie is still so familiar. The themes and some of the storylines of the film have been done before and by the same studio in the same genre. What is more, some of the characters are so badly constructed, it is almost insulting. While the dinosaur, who throughout the film becomes less fearful and more confident, grows and changes, his human counterpart, Spot, is left drying out on the cold. He does not have a character arc and is treated through the entire film as nothing but a human slave, or pet, whose entire purpose is to accompany and play to the whims of an animal.

There is something about the film that did not really bother me but which I am sure would irritate parents. Even though the film is rated PG, it deserves a PG 13 rating. This is a problem that has always been obvious with the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) rating system, where only nudity and sexual content are instrumental but violence and thematic substance are completely brushed off. The Good Dinosaur has some violent scenes and a bit of harsh language as when Arlo keeps shouting at the little orphan human being that “he would drown him in his own blood” or that “he would tear him apart”. Or a Terry Gilliam inspired segment where the two protagonists become high on some prehistoric fruit and run around with their heads on each other’s body. As I said, I did not find these parts of the film annoying – in fact I would be totally psyched to see a Lars Von Trier directed Pixar movie – but ask for parents to exercise some amount of prudence for their children.

Published on Dec 21,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 816]



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