3.5 stars. Rated PG, for dramatic intensity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.27.15
Time and again, the folks at Pixar have demonstrated a talent for wildly imaginative, outside-the-box storytelling.
The secret lives of toys. The source of our nightmares, and our emotions. Superheroes with family and identity crises. The fate of a tiny, semi-sentient robot left alone to clean up a polluted Earth.
|Arlo (far right) and his tiny "pet," Spot, find themselves in the middle of a range war, when|
a trio of cattle ranchers led by Butch (second from left) take on a pack of rustling
And now, perhaps, the best and biggest “what if” of all: What if that huge asteroid hadn’t hit Earth, roughly 65 million years ago?
According to Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, at least some of the massive saurians would have established an agrarian society, homesteading and raising families much like 19th century American settlers. Indeed, this whole narrative is a playful riff on classic Western archetypes, from the aforementioned farmers to nastier aggressors lurking in outlying regions, with an actual “cattle” round-up thrown in for good measure.
At the same time, traditional family values have been grafted onto dinosaurs, often with droll intent, in the time-honored fashion of countless earlier animated Disney films that have anthropomorphized everything from elephants to Dalmatians. Indeed, much about The Good Dinosaur feels less like “standard” Pixar fare — if there is such a thing — and more like the coming-of-age plot beats of traditional Disney animated storytelling.
Then there’s also the matter of the rather unusual “pet” nipping at the edges of everything else here: a narrative element likely to make ultra-conservative, man-is-the-center-of-everything types choke on their Cheerios.
If all this sounds like rather a lot for one film, well ... yes, that’s an issue. “The Good Dinosaur” feels a bit overcooked, and it lacks the tight focus that marks Pixar’s best films. I’m always wary of scripts credited to multiple authors, and this one acknowledges five writers — Peter Sohn, Erik Benson, Meg LeFauve, Kelsey Mann and Bob Peterson — with Sohn also in the director’s chair.
At times, this saga doesn’t quite know how to find its legs, much like the title character.