Disney/Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur opens in Theaters nationwide this Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. I had the opportunity to attend a screening on the Walt Disney Studio Lot on Monday evening.
The Good Dinosaur is a coming of age & boy/dog journey home film starring a dinosaur, Arlo, and his human critter, Spot. Arlo is basically the runt of the family and is afraid of everything. He wants to prove himself to his family and ultimately himself. Through a series of events Arlo is separated from his family and most of the movie centers on this quest to return home. Along the way he learns to control his fears through encounters he and Spot have with a Styracosaurus, a trio of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Pterodactyls and Raptors.
When you watch the film the locations the dinosaurs go through they are picture postcards inspired by national parks. The vistas are large and expansive and done in a photo realistic way. The environments vary from farms to mountains to the plains. The one area that is not explored in the film is the traditional/stereotypical swamp/marsh environment you associate with dinosaurs.
It is amazing to think everything you see is computer generated. The vast expanse of what they populated and put into motion for each shot is spectacular. Gordon Cameron (supervisor for simulation & crowds) said: “We have about 270 types of vegetation, and 15 pre-made wind levels. We generate 600-frame full simulation loops of those trees. We could layer on top of the procedural elements to get the look we wanted.” This allowed the team to place the actors in the settings and then move the cameras at will to produce the shots we see in the final film. These large detailed exterior shots meant more of this film required special effects shots. Typically Pixar films are about 30 percent. This time around 900 of the 1500 shots featured the effects department. Water also posed a challenge for the film makers with 200 shots of rivers, several scenes taking place in the river, plus 400 shots of rain.
Like most Pixar films the story has heart and is full of positive life lessons. I found it hard to really get into this film though. I am not sure why but it just did not really pull me in whereas Inside Out I was in from the get go. I enjoyed several of the scenes, my favorite two being the Pet Collector encounter and the T-Rex story thread. I found myself admiring the work done to create the environments, which is not where you want to be on a first viewing but the vistas were so grand with so much detail it really drew my attention away from the predictable plot that was unfolding. This is not to say it is bad movie, just not to the caliber of Inside Out or Toy Story 3.
I am curious how this film will play with kids. It has dinosaurs which should be a big draw but wonder if there is enough there that they will want to watch it over and over and over again. I think some of the sequences will go over big with all demographics but not sure if that is enough to carry the film for repetitive viewing. As with all good Disney and Pixar films they did not “dumb down” the emotion of the story and I think it will play ok on multiple levels for adults as well as children.
Will I go see it again, potentially to see how it looks in 3D. The 2D version really showcased the detail of the environments so I am curious if 3D enhances this or ruins it. I am looking forward to seeing it on home video and I really hope they spend some time exploring how the settings were created in the bonus features.
Heads Up for parents:
The movie is rated PG and I would take this to heart before going in to watch it with your child. You know your kid’s boundaries and tastes. This movie has some loss with characters dying (not on screen but think Bambi or Lion King). Also there are several loud scenes with storms and some fighting with dinosaurs. They are cartoon feeling dinosaurs but still biting and fighting. No blood but a carton decapitation and eating of animals/critters. So I would take that into account with your child and prepare them.