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In an alternate world where the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missed the planet, an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While traveling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of. (From Disney/Pixar’s official synopsis)

 Good Dinosaur, The
On paper, it was a banner year for Pixar. Following project delays, they ended up with two releases and both of them were original projects – alleviating fan and critic fears that they were spending too much time and energy on unnecessary sequels. Pete Docter’s Inside Out scored fantastic reviews and grew into the studio’s second biggest box office success (not adjusted for inflation). But then, their second 2015 release, Peter Sohn’s The Good Dinosaur, failed to meet expectations and became the only Pixar movie to (possibly) lose money after advertising costs were taken into account. So, why was The Good Dinosaur released to mediocre reviews and comparatively minescule box office numbers? Was it released too close to Inside Out? Were audiences more interested in the nostalgia factor of Jurassic World than its dinosaurs? Did the visual disparity of the hyperrealistic backgrounds and super cartoonish characters turn people off? Or was it just not very good?

The Good Dinosaur had a painful birth, though this is barely remarkable by Pixar standards. The studio is known for completely uprooting the stories and creative staffs of some films years into production and the practice has served them well in the past. Both Toy Story sequels (1999 and 2010) went through drastic last minute changes and came out ahead. My personal favourite of the studio’s movies, Ratatouille (2007), even changed creative staff and directors in the middle of development. Sohn worked his way up the Pixar ladder from storyboard/production artist, to animator, cameo voice work, and lead director on a short film ( Partly Cloudy, 2009). He then took over lead director status on The Good Dinosaur when original it’s director, Bob Peterson, was ‘dismissed’ (something like 147 employees were laid off as a result of the story/staff changes and release delay). Peterson, who has been with Pixar as an animator, writer, voice actor, and co-director prior to even Toy Story, apparently conceived a very different version of the story that I’m sure has been verified outside of studio doors. I seem to remember the earliest descriptions saying something about dinosaurs and humans existed in a modern era, rather than a vaguely defined post-mesozoic, pre-industrialized era. That sounds like a much more interesting movie than the one Sohn ended making.

 Good Dinosaur, The
I’m happy this film doesn’t fit the Pixar high concept formula to a tee, but still found a lot of similarities to Finding Nemo, including the lost family/road trip structure, the cavalcade of wacky characters that help a pair of mismatched protagonists find their way, and a main character overcoming his encompassing fear of life. What’s more frustrating, however, is the adherence to other well-worn ‘family entertainment’ storytelling cliches (...always with the dead parents). I mean, is there a rule that all animated movies about prehistoric animals – The Land Before Time, Disney’s Dinosaur, Ice Age, The Croods – have to be road movies? Does Pixar head John Lasseter just apply The Brave Little Toaster blueprint to troubled productions? I suppose that most audiences could feel the behind-the-scenes conflict in the push & pull of the banal greater plot and the special little sequences-to-sequence touches that make The Good Dinosaur better than the STV structures it seems to be emulating. But, none of it quite fits. The tone is constantly shifting from sad to jubilant and goofy, to scary, and back again, to the point that irregularity sort of becomes the movies default mode. And, in the end, the unpredictable mood and oddly cartoonish character designs started to grow on me and I found The Good Dinosaur interesting enough on an impressionistic level to embrace the episodic structure, even if the Pixar think-tank never got a handle on the story.

 Good Dinosaur, The

Video


For this review, I am checking out the 2D Blu-ray release, though Disney has also released a 3D Combo Pack Blu-ray version. The 2.40:1, 1080p image is, not surprisingly, a basically perfect amalgamation of the hyper-realistic, hyper-detailed backgrounds, as well as the cartoonish and more rubbery-looking characters. The realistic additions are generally the most impressive in terms of complex patterns, delicate hues, and intricate gradations. The cartoony bits are slightly brighter and smoother (they kind of look like balloons when they’re wet), so the balancing act between the two is pretty fragile. Even without the benefit of a 3D transfer, I was still able to appreciate the dynamic shifts in depth, thanks to the clarity of the details. Colours are rich and diverse and change with the environments Arlo and Spot travel throughout the movie (each location appears to be based on a different real-world National Park, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Monument Valley). Black levels are strong and there aren’t many compression artefacts, aside from some slightly bandy gradations.

Audio


The Good Dinosaur is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound. It is every bit as aggressive as Pixar’s other films and has the added excuse of giant animals to give the whole mix a bit of a bassy boost. That said, this is a surprisingly soft mix. A lot of the directional work is devoted to environmental ambience – stuff like wind in the trees, rushing rivers, and rain (there’s a lot of rain in this movie) – but scurrying critters, battling dinosaurs, and Arlo’s many cliffside tumbles get their fair share of multi-channel representation. The final action sequence is especially bold and noisy. There’s a bit of dissonance between the rubbery look of the dino characters and the incredibly human voices, but it kind of normalizes as the film goes on. The score was co-composed by brothers Mychael and Jeff Danna. The music mixes the ethereal qualities of Mychael’s previous Life of Pi soundtrack with down-home country licks and more intense, string-heavy action cues.

 Good Dinosaur, The

Extras


  • Commentary with director Peter Sohn, story supervisor Kelsey Mann, supervising animator Mike Venturini, director of photography/lighting Sharon Calahan, and supervising technical director Sanjay Bakshi – This is a mouthful of a track, brimming with mostly technical discussion. Sohn has plenty to say about his part on the film, but also makes time to ask the crew about their specific contributions. The best moments are concerned with the major story changes throughout the rocky production. I’m a little disappointed by the utter seriousness of the track, but there’s so much information that I suppose there wasn’t time for too many funny anecdotes.
  • Sanjay’s Super Team (7:10, HD) – The Academy Award-nominated short that preceded The Good Dinosaur in theaters is a clever and cute parable about the meeting of Hindu traditions and modern Western culture. An imaginative little boy named Sanjay is desperate to play with his superhero toys and imagines an elaborate Hindu-themed super team when his father forces him to perform morning prayers. This short actually has better sound design than the feature.
  • True Lies About Dinosaurs (2:00, HD) – A short break-down of the film’s inaccuracies and the truths they’re built upon. As a six year old, this would’ve been very important to me.
  • Recyclosaurus (6:20, HD) – Footage from a creative competition that the Pixar staff participated in while the film was being made. The challenge was to make dinosaurs using the discarded items on the studio’s ‘free table.’ It’s a fun look behind the curtain and might even spur creativity in the kids who may be watching the extras.
  • The Filmmakers' Journey (7:50, HD) – Director Peter Sohn and his staff break down the behind-the-scenes process and how their brief production period informed the movie’s lessons and tones. It also includes footage of the crew visiting Jackson, Wyoming for research and the influence that trip would have on Sohn’s direction.
  • Every Part of the Dinosaur (6:10, HD) – This featurette covers the filmmaking processes from the animator’s point-of-view. The discussion blends technical info (including comparisons between storyboards, rough animation, and the final product) with the more emotional aspects of the characters and their physicality.
  • Following the T-Rex Trail (7:00, HD) – Footage from the filmmakers’ road trip to an Oregon cattle ranch for additional research. The ranch’s owners and children became the inspiration for the T-Rex family in the film.
  • Three deleted scenes (in storyboard form) with an optional director’s introduction (10:40, HD)
  • Dino Bites (4:20, HD) – A montage of original animated pieces produced to promote the film.
  • Hide and Seek (1:00, HD) – Another animated promotional clip.
  • Trailers for The Good Dinosaur and other Pixar and Disney releases


 Good Dinosaur, The

Overall


The fact that The Good Dinosaur is such a tonal and structural mess actually means that it’s more interesting, though not better than most of Pixar's more recent output. There are special sequences wedged between formulaic ones (the formula here being Finding Nemo-meets- The Land Before Time). It’s certainly the lesser of the studio’s two 2015 releases and your mileage may vary, but it didn’t quite deserve the brush-off it ended up getting. Disney/Pixar’s 2D Blu-ray is demo-level material the whole way ‘round and includes an extensive collection of special features. Though the run-times of the featurettes is a bit short, there’s a nice variation to the subject matter.

 Good Dinosaur, The

 Good Dinosaur, The
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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