The Good Dinosaur is Disney-Pixar's obligation gift for the holidays, hoping moviegoers remember it's the thought that counts.
Something was chipped during shipping, leaving The Good Dinosaur less than perfect, which is what Disney-Pixar teaches us to expect. This prehistoric fable built from the fossils of past work was originally due in theaters a year and half ago, changed directors, reworked the third act.
The result? It's there in the title. Not great but good.
The Good Dinosaur begins 65 million years with the asteroid that scientists believe struck Earth and rebooted nature in mankind's favor missing us completely. As a result, dinosaurs not only rule but they are agriculturalists, speak English and have perfectly capped teeth. Humans are rare and feral "critters" stealing crops. Let fundamentalists wrap their heads around that.
Dinosaurs here aren't Jurassic-scary; more like Hanna-Barbera cute. Especially Arlo (older voice by Raymond Ochoa), the runt of an Apatosaurus litter hatched by Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand). Arlo's worthier brother and sister already "made their mark," stamping muddy footprints on the corn silo. Someday, Arlo, someday.
Arlo sees his chance, if he catches the critter stealing corn. That's Spot, a wild child human who's the best character in this movie. Green-eyed, gap-toothed Spot is a couple of amusing rungs down the evolutionary ladder from Mowgli and young Tarzan, grunting, walking on all fours, a snarling mutt turning puppy in a flash.
Arlo's cowardice and Spot's cuteness make them uneasy allies after being washed away from Clawtooth Mountain by a flash flood, just like the one that killed Mufasa, I mean Poppa. Sorry, that's another easy-theme cribbing in The Good Dinosaur. Arlo's quest becomes returning home, and where have we heard that before?
The trip has entertaining passages; Sam Elliott voicing a longhorn-herding T. rex, Arlo and Spot tripping on hallucinogenic berries, an intense encounter with hungry pterodons. Most of the time I was distracted by the superb photorealism of The Good Dinosaur's American Southwest backdrops, wondering how much money Disney would save by just filming the real thing.
As usual, Disney-Pixar drops a new animated short before the feature, and it's a gem.
Sanjay's Super Team is an semi-autobiographical work by Pixar veteran Sanjay Patel, a thrilling blend of Hindu lore and a child's superhero infatuation. Little Sanjay is bored with his father's daily meditation custom, so he daydreams the deities into Hindu Avengers, with the color scheme and action intensifying as Sanjay grows closer in spirit and understanding with his father.
It's a bold piece of animation, the ribbon on Disney-Pixar's gift meaning more than The Good Dinosaur inside.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.