2015-11-25

The Good Dinosaur – Good, Not Great

by Yo Snyder

Inside Disney and Pixar during the pitch for The Good Dinosaur*:

“So we have this idea for a movie about what if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed and dinosaurs went on living. The story would be sort of a ‘boy and his dog’ kind of story, only this time the boy would be a dinosaur and the dog would be a little human boy.”

“Ha ha, that’s great, what an original idea. I love it! Now, what would happen to this dinosaur and his pet boy.”

Silence broken only by the tapping of pencils as people look at the ceiling.

“I’ve got it! How about we have this young dinosaur learn about overcoming his fears. Perhaps early on his dad could die in some tragic way, which adds to his fears. Then maybe he might get lost in an unfamiliar place, he’ll meet this little human boy—whom he won’t like at first—they travel together, meet some wacky characters, overcome some obstacles, and eventually become good friends. Oh, and maybe the dad could show up in some sort of dream-like sequence to help our dinosaur find the courage he needs in a key spot so that by the end our little dinosaur grows up to be the man his father always knew he could be by ascending to fulfill his destiny and making his mark on the world. How about that?”

Some uneasy glances are exchanged. Someone clears their throat.

“Uh, isn’t that basically the plot of Lion King?”

More silence.

“I suppose it is kind of similar, but Lion King was released what, twenty years ago? No one will notice.”

The silence deepens. People stare at the table.

“Besides, in this story we’ll have T-rexes who will be cowboys.”

Everyone perks up and smiles.

“Oh, yeah that’s a great idea! Let’s run with that.”

*I do not have any inside access to any Disney/Pixar pitch meetings, this is all pure speculation.

Maybe that isn’t exactly how the pitch for The Good Dinosaur went, but it seems pretty clear that this was a case where Pixar had an interesting premise that they couldn’t really find a good story to wrap around, and so ended up borrowing liberally from what they and Disney have done numerous times before. This, of course, does not make for a bad movie by any means, but there were a few too many moments when I felt like I’d seen this somewhere before, just with different characters (probably in the Lion King).

Still, where The Good Dinosaur may be lacking in story, Pixar continues to show its deft mastery in other areas. This is a stunning looking film, with some of the most amazing animation Pixar has done to date. It also features some strong characters, with Pixar once again demonstrating that you don’t always need dialogue to build well-rounded characters. Spot, the little feral boy, is a delightful character despite never saying word. His subtle expressions often reveal more, and with more emotion, than any amount of dialogue ever could. And finally, Pixar shows they aren’t afraid of embracing quirky, unique ideas. Case-in-point; cowboy T-rexes who gallop along like they’re riding on a broomstick horse (trust me, it’s a sight you’ll never forget, and will forever make you chuckle you look at a T-rex afterwards).

While the story may not be the strong suit here, it still relates some powerful (if a bit well-worn) messages about fear and finding our courage. When a character points out that sometimes we have to get through our fear in order to see the beauty on the other side, I was reminded of what a pastor once told me; sometimes God will calm the storm, and sometimes God calms us in order to get us through the storm. When those scary storms of life come, I don’t think there’s a person among us who wouldn’t like Jesus to just step up make things instantly calm again; and there are times he does that. However, there are also times where he comes just to calm us so that we might get through the storm to the beauty on the other side. In both cases, Jesus’ piercing question remains; “Why are you so afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26) The storms of life can be frightening, sometimes overwhelmingly so, but when we remember that the Creator of all things loves us and cares for us, perhaps we will see a way through our fear to the beauty our loving God has for us on the other side of that storm.

The Good Dinosaur is in a tough spot, coming out a few months after one of Pixar’s most original and brilliant films yet, Inside Out. That’s a tough act for any film to follow, but especially one that just simply never seemed to find its story. The result is a basic, well-worn story filled with some quirky, original ideas. It’s a heart-warming, uplifting tale that looks incredible, but ultimately The Good Dinosaur isn’t one of Pixar’s best efforts.

Score: 4 of 7
The Good Dinosaur is a solid family film, but it does have some tragic, and a few tense moments that might be too much for the really little ones in the group.