‘The Good Dinosaur’ Review: In praise of goodness
If there is anything that is truly worth noting about Peter Sohn’s The Good Dinosaur, it is its remarkable look. (READ: 10 things you didn't know about new Pixar movie 'The Good Dinosaur')
This is not blind praise about how visually stunning the film is, even though it is that. The film is truly ravishing, with nearly all of its frames gorgeous enough to be paraded on the walls of an art-starved home.
However, beyond the obvious eye candy, there is just something extremely peculiar about the film’s very clever design that deserves lengthier discussion.
The primary conceit of The Good Dinosaur, which is the idea that the meteor that decimated all the dinosaurs millions of years ago never happened, is one that is borne out of mixture of odd science and childlike ingenuity. It is a what-if scenario that one can expect from a classroom full of wide-eyed kids who have just been taught about the history of our species. It is exactly something the wizards of Pixar, most famous for crafting universal tales out of the most absurd ideas, would conceive and exploit.
What differentiates The Good Dinosaur from the most renowned of Pixar’s works like Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen’s Inside Out (2015) is that it stops at that initial conceit and wings its way to the end with a narrative that hardly contains any surprises.
As soon as the film introduces its fascinating world of agrarian dinosaurs and humans who have barely discovered the joys of civilization, it quickly abandons novelty for tradition, relying heavily on the charming but all-too-familiar story of young dinosaur Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) and his pet human child Spot (Jack Bright) who need to find their way home after getting lost.
Despite the leanness of the plot, the film nevertheless evokes such emotional heft by virtue of its full embrace of the stalwart virtues of its cinematic roots.
Not a spaghetti western
The Good Dinosaur is a true Western. As opposed to Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells’ An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991), Gore Verbinski’s Rango (2011), and other cartoons that shallowly utilize the most conspicuous elements of the genre such as the setting, stereotypes or the violent tendencies, Sohn’s film imbibes its very soul, with only the few sporadic overt references to the tales about the frontier, the most obvious of which is the trio of T-Rexes (voiced by A.J. Buckley, Anna Paquin, and Sam Elliott, who in his prime devoted most of his skill to playing cowboys) who are bothered by a villainous bunch of cattle rustlers.
Right from the start, the film concentrates not on pushing its predictable story but on painting a landscape that is essentially intertwined in the experience the film has to offer. The world is a paramount character as well, and the film shapes it with as much detail as it is allowed. This is also in consonance with the film’s preoccupation with the genre it alludes to, a genre that owes its very existence to the fact that it is set in a vast expanse of unknown territory that is as beautiful as it is dangerous.
The Good Dinosaur is therefore only simple in narrative, but impressive in its effort in staying true to the spirit of enterprise. It begins with the homely comfort of a protected homestead before forcing its protagonist into an arena that mixes the terrifying splendor of uncharted lands.
It rewards not only by virtue of its well-told story but also because it is mature enough to not treat the Western genre as a mere pageant of visual cues and costumes. It is a subtle ode to those films that have often been misunderstood for its displays of violence when they are really about the unpredictable ways of the land.
Spectacular speculative fiction
This is where the unique look of the film comes into play. The Good Dinosaur painstakingly details its world to look almost identical to ours. In fact, a lot of the film’s shots of its computer-generated vistas are so realistically rendered that they could have passed as photographs of some untouched corner of the world. There is a jarring contrast between the immaculate setting and the characters who are designed to appear fantastic and out of this world.
Miraculously, the cartoonic characters meld very well with their surroundings, even to a degree that the required suspension of disbelief that most animated films invoke to work is breached. The tactility of the interaction between the characters and their setting is profound, to the point of making it seem that the story becomes secondary to the pristine beauty of the world where humanity has been rendered innocent by the sheer power of speculative fiction.
In a way, The Good Dinosaur serves as a sort of companion piece to Andrew Stanton’s WALL-E (2008), which set its story of a romantic robot in a world ravaged and left for dead by humans. Both films manifest a direct affinity to genre-specific tropes to propel their narratives. Both films are also distinctly quiet and reliant on atmosphere instead of dialogue for its relevant revelations.
Also, with films like The Good Dinosaur and WALL-E, Pixar seems to be both praising and rebuking humanity. By infusing characters that are notably not human with humanity’s greatest virtues – in a world where humanity exists, the famed animation company forwards an imputation that goodness is indeed universal, that it is undeterred by culture, creed, shape, and in this case, species. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios