The Good Dinosaur

Bottom line: Not so “good.”

Probably the best part of this latest Pixar film was the marketing decision to release it during the long Thanksgiving weekend, when its competition consisted of more grown-up offerings. TGD is just OK at best, and borderline offensive (I think) at times. It’s weak Pixar, to be kind, and occasionally little more than glorified Saturday morning television fare.

First, the strengths. The backgrounds are beautiful, and sometimes genuinely stunning and breathtaking. The film’s rendering of water is exquisite. Water is notoriously difficult to get right in animation, especially when one is attempting something close to realism over visual poetry.

Unfortunately, the artistry of the main animal characters isn’t up to the level of the backgrounds, and its shows. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, and other times, it’s painfully obvious.

The story is generic, but that’s not the problem. On paper, most of the great Pixar or Disney films sound simplistic in terms of plot. The problem with The Good Dinosaur is that it’s essentially one-dimensional. Pixar films are known to resonate with both children and adults, and with meaning that touches the heart, the mind and the memory banks. TGD is children’s fare, and while certain sequences have their own excitement, the Toy Story adult/child vibe or the Inside Out multi-level richness is absent. It’s cute, but won’t reward multiple viewings in the same way.

There are also a few…let’s call them…challenges with the film. The first is the preceding cartoon is “Sanjay’s Super Team,” which may challenge parents not acquainted with Hindu gods to explain what’s going on to their children.

Some of the other challenges involve the main film’s evolutionary stance. It’s not unusual to see something like “65 Million Years Ago” or some such dating in a modern film. But the treatment of the little “feral human” and his (spoiler alert) ultimate family unit as half-humans somewhere up the chain between knuckle-draggers and full human beings may not jive with many parents’ view of how we got here on this Earth.

Perhaps most in-your-face offensive is the seeming occasional satire of Christianity, which is a bit jarring in a children’s film. One of the more nasty critters is fond of using the phrase “the storm provides” in an obvious pun on “the Lord provides.” That could have been cute and a funny variation. But with the other “revival” activities surrounding the use of that phrase [one of the other creatures gets a “relevation,” (revelation) in a kind of ecstatic experience] the religious references are more cutting and offensive than quaint or creative. It’s hard not to find the combination merely a fun twist of phrase.

The film was known to have replaced its original director and to have delayed its release date by a year. Perhaps that accounts for the problems with the film. For younger children, it might prove a diversion. It certainly won’t become a classic.

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About Mark DuPré

Full-time (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Part-time film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 40 years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I preach, teach, counsel, write and plan in my real job. I teach a subject I love at RIT in my "other job," which is a lot of fun most of the time.... I play piano for our local college choir, and sing and play at church occasionally. I also have a film-related website at www.film-prof.com.
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