‘The Good Dinosaur’: Not as evolved as most Pixar
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“The last croc, I drowned him in my own blood.” – Grizzled, scar-faced old Tyrannosaur dinosaur telling a campfire story about fending off an attack from multiple crocodiles in “The Good Dinosaur.”
Ah, there’s nothing like a Pixar family film that could give the little ones some serious nightmares.
“The Good Dinosaur” is one strange, aggressively gross and dark adventure, featuring a number of frightening storms; some primary characters getting knocked unconscious and/or suffering grievous injuries; creatures eating other creatures — and biting. Lots and lots and LOTS of biting.
From a dinosaur who bit off the end of her own tail to escape death to grotesque flying killers that chomp at everyone in their sight to a little boy who bites EVERYTHING he can get his teeth on, you’ve never seen so much biting in a movie. Exiting the 3-D screening, I half-expected to see teeth marks on my arm.
“The Good Dinosaur” begins with the premise of a giant asteroid just missing Earth some 65 million years ago, meaning dinosaurs avoided extinction would eventually share the planet with evolving humans. Flash forward several million years, and we meet a lime green Apatosaurus family that has a working farm where they grow corn and even have a chicken coop. (Told you this movie was weird.)
There’s the strong and noble Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright, delivering his lines as if trying to out-James Earl Jones’ Mufasa from “The Lion King”), kind and protective Momma (Frances McDormand) and their three little ones: the fearless and playful Buck (Marcus Scribner); smart and sweet Libby (Maleah Padilla) and our hero, the timid Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), who lives in a constant state of hesitance and fear.
SPOILER ALERT! After a classic Disney tragedy befalls the family, Arlo goes chasing after the little “critter” he holds responsible. The critter scampers about on all fours, howls at the moon, eats nasty bugs while they’re still alive and sniffs everything like a puppy — but he’s actually a wild little boy who comes to be known as Spot.
The dinosaurs in this movie talk. The humans do not. (Guess we caught up with them a few million years later.) Arlo can’t stand Spot at first, but when circumstances leave Arlo lost and far from home, it’s Arlo and Spot against the world.
And what a crazy, colorful, dangerous world it is. Director Peter Sohn and the usual army of greatly gifted animation pros deliver some stunning visuals, in particular some sweeping long shots showcasing the hilly terrain, the raging rivers, the storm-filled skies and the majestic mountains of the era.
But there’s a seemingly endless supply of odd-looking, often dangerous creatures lurking in the tall grass and the woods — and in the skies.
A nasty snake that looks like a slithering dragon tries to take out Arlo. When the frequent, treacherous and dangerous storms finally end, a band of ugly, hunter-scavenger pterodactyls swoop in to claim their prey. (They look at Spot and see a snack.) When Arlo emerges from the river, leeches cling to his body. (Make sure to collect all the cuddly “Good Dinosaur” toys and action figures!)
Perhaps strangest of all is an extended sequence involving Sam Elliott as a weathered old T-Rex who along with his son and daughter has a herd of water buffaloes. All of a sudden we’re in a dinosaur cowboy movie. Oh wait, even stranger: a sequence where Arlo and Spot ingest some sort of hallucinogenic plant and get really, REALLY high. “The Good Dinosaur” is wildly uneven, but you have to give it points for trying to be something different.
The screenplay-by-committee delivers a couple of huge laughs, and one beautifully rendered sentimental scene where Arlo and Spot communicate their family histories to one another. But dinosaurs — even talking, bright green, sweet dinosaurs — don’t make for the most visually pleasant animated creatures, and Arlo isn’t a particularly strong or lovable character compared to so many previous Pixar leads, animal or human.
It’s been a long road to the big screen for “The Good Dinosaur.” The original director was replaced. The release date was delayed a year and a half. There were reports of major changes in the story.
The final product reflects that bumpy path. Inconsistent and weird, “The Good Dinosaur” is second-level Pixar all the way.
Disney-Pixar presents a film directed by Peter Sohn and written by Meg LeFauve. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated PG (for peril, action and thematic elements). Opens Wednesday at local theaters.