‘The Good Dinosaur’ Review

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Director: Peter Sohn

Writer: Meg LeFauve

Voice Cast: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Frances McDormand, Jeffery Wright, Marcus Scribner, Peter Sohn, Steve Zahn, A.J. Buckley, Anna Paquin, and Sam Elliott

Synopsis: An epic journey into the world of dinosaurs where an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Disney and Pixar are arguably one of the best pairings in Hollywood, sure they’ve had their missteps – I’m looking at you Cars and Cars 2 – but for the most part they two studios always manage to create beautiful stories and great effects that blend nicely together, and always seems to get better with each outing. However, The Good Dinosaur was one of those rare films that the studio had a hard time getting together. The film was plagued with behind-the-scenes troubles, even recasting the director and changing the story halfway through production which delayed the film. Of course, the important thing is, it is any good?

The Good Dinosaur begins by showing the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs missing Earth and fast forwarding to show that dinosaurs have evolved and learned some techniques like building shelters, wrangling animals and agriculture. The film centers on Arlo (Ochoa), an Apatosaurus who struggles to fit into his family his fear of almost everything. His father, Poppa (Wright), tries to get Arlo to face his fears which leads to a tragic event that eventually puts Arlo face-to-face with Spot (Bright) a feral human child who speaks through grunts and howls. With Arlo far away from home and his only companion being Spot, the two travel through the unforgiving wilderness and face many obstacles that stop them from reaching home.

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The story for The Good Dinosaur is rather simple; Arlo is lost and is trying to get back home to his family. Which, of course, is one of Disney and Pixar’s primal focus’ and when their films succeed.  It’s necessarily a bad thing, the “family” moments and focus really works and pulls at your heartstrings the way Pixar and Disney have been known to do. However, the overall execution doesn’t work all that well and it comes off a bit formulaic, which is kind of a shame because The Good Dinosaur had some great opportunities to be more.

Despite some of the films pitfalls story-wise, The Good Dinosaur excels in the visuals. Seriously, The Good Dinosaur may, or is, Pixar and Disney best technical film. Visually the film is amazingly beautiful to look at, and at times it looks like we’re looking at real locations. I think The Good Dinosaur may be thankful for the delays because it gave the studio and everyone involved more time to go on the photorealistic visual effects.

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The compassion between Arlo and Spot really makes the film work as well. Arlo is the fearful one that runs away, while Spot is the fearless and brave one that will defend and standout to any, if not, all the dangerous they come across. Spot, for all intent and purposes, is like Arlo’s dog and make the journey between the two feel like a “man and his dog” story. The two’s journey is the only real story aspect that makes the film work and seeing the journey from beginning to end was something that will connect with everyone and is one of the best Disney and Pixar character arcs I’ve seen.

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One of the surprising things about The Good Dinosaur is how they treat the wilderness. Even for me the film was a bit too realistic when it comes to the pecking order of dinosaurs. There are moments when dinosaurs are saying they are going to kill one another – and they actually use the word kill – or when Sam Elliot’s T-Rex character Butch tells a story about how he got a scar. It did throw me off how the film goes to certain levels, especially when it comes to Steve Zahn’s pterodactyl character named Thunderclap. It’s not me being nitpicky or saying “how dare they!” just more of an observation that I made.

All in all, The Good Dinosaur does have some great moments in the film that are classic Disney and Pixar. However, it seems like at times the film is more focused on giving us fantastic visuals – which the film is loaded with – rather than give us a more better story. The Good Dinosaur may not be Disney and Pixar’s best film, but it certainly isn’t its worst.

 

The Good Dinosaur

4 out of 5

 

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” Review

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Dir: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Liam Hemsworth and Donald Sutherland

Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a non-spoiler as always*

 

I’ll admit, I didn’t like The Hunger Games and I read the book (yes I know, “the book is always better” blah blah blah).  I had nothing against anybody in the movie but the movie to me was a bit on the boring side and some of the changes they made were a bit iffy to me.  But, that is the nature of Hollywood adaptations.  So saying Catching Fire is better than The Hunger Games for me isn’t really saying that much.  However, it is a better movie than the first and the performances this time around better too.

The movie starts off showing Katniss (Lawrence) hasn’t forgotten her time during The Games right before President Snow (Sutherland) shows up at her house and asks her if she’s ready to be in a real war and ready to lose everyone she cares about die.  Snow knows that Katniss risking her life to save her and Peeta (Hutcherson) lives has started a revolution that he doesn’t want.  Snow then puts forth The Quarter Quell.  The Quarter Quell puts all past victors from past Hunger Games into the games. Snow sees this as an opportunity to not only get rid of the other victors but also squash a rebellion, and even get rid of Katniss.

The first half sets up our past characters in Katniss, Peeta, Gale (Hemsworth), Haymitch (Harrelson), even Effie (Banks) and Cinna (Kravitz) although their characters have very small roles compared to the newcomers.  Speaking of them, our main new characters include the Capital’s favorite Finnick Odair (Claflin), Johanna Manson (Malone), and Beetee (Wright).  All have their moments but Claflin and Malone stick out and are the better of the new additions that also include the new Games Maker, Plutarch Heavensbee played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Hoffman nearly steals the show next to the always reliable Stanley Tucci playing energetic TV host Caesar Flickerman.

The movie does have a different feel to it and it’s because of the director change from Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence.  Lawrence’s world is cold and hopeless which fits how everyone from Katniss to the other victors feel about the situation.  However, one of the things that Lawrence keeps, that isn’t for the better, is the certain beat the movie has before it gets to the area.  It is structured that way in the book but the way Katniss and Peeta scope out the new competitors in the training session and their individual tests does feel like a “been there done that” feel.

Once we get to the area, that’s where things start to gear up.  The action starts right away (and shaky cam free in case you were wondering) and a bit more violent than then first movie but again it does make sense since the stakes are bigger this time around and it’s no longer “a game.” Even when the action is at a standstill the characters are being developed so we can care about them, which I know sounds weird but considering this is a movie about people killing each other left and right this kind of stuff matters.

Acting wise, Jennifer Lawrence is the star of the show.  Her performance ranges all over the place from heroic to vulnerable to scared and proves that his role is hers and hers alone.  Hutcherson has more to do this time around bringing empathy and being the mouth-piece in a sense. Sutherland’s President Snow is a little more menacing this time around.  He’s still the man behind the curtain but he does everything he can to make sure Katniss doesn’t survive.

All in all, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a better outing from the first movie along with the acting and action.  The set up for the next two movies, Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2, should get fans of the book and non-fans excited.  But again, for me, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first movie but this was an improvement.

 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

3.5 out of 5