“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” C.S. Lewis
Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). I recently watched The Good Dinosaur with the rest of my family, and though I went in with low expectations, yet I still came out disappointed. Disney has been on my bad list for some time (ever since Good Luck Charlie and Modern Family, actually), but never before had I been so disappointed with a Pixar film in my life.
Now let’s leave aside all the Weltanshauung problems like existentialism and evolution and forget the fact that the plot feels suspiciously like that of The Lion King. I’ll even forgive the composers for ripping off the Braveheart soundtrack. Other Christian reviewers like Plugged In and Christianity Today can discuss such elements.
What I want to emphasize today is that kids deserve good movies, too, because someday those kids will grow up. Pixar seemed to forget about that.
Let us begin with Arlo- one of the most un-empathetic protagonists for children that I have ever encountered. I can understand having a little bit of fear, but that fear should never define a character at the expense of other character qualities and quirks. For example, according to Martin Freeman, Bilbo Baggins “is scared all the time,” yet Bilbo is never defined exclusively by that fear. He possesses other characteristics that contrast with his fear and give him a sense of realism. Have you ever met a person who is so afraid that they have no other dimensions to their personality? Neither have I- so why should a screen character be different?
Again, the characterization seemed off-beat with Arlo’s Poppa. One scene, he is the all-wise and understanding mentor giving Arlo advice on how to be brave, and the next, he is angrily driving his son through a slippery mountain range in a lightning storm. Yes, I realize that breaking and combining stereotypes in fiction is a good idea, but the writers didn’t offer enough development for Poppa to justify such a split-second change. Trying to reconcile those two extremes is like trying to say that there is no fundamental difference between Gollum and Smeagol.
Then the scenes themselves didn’t make any sense. In one particular scene, Arlo is standing in the garden, yelling at his mean older brother- but his intentions seem somewhat mixed. “I’ll make my mark! You’ll see!” Two seconds later: “I don’t care about my old mark anyway!” *stalks off like an angry baby elephant* So what is it- does he want to make a mark, or not?
The logical problems only piled up. I still can’t understand why the older brother was such a bully; what kind of person fakes his death in a chicken coop just because his little brother caused him a minor inconvenience? Later, why were the pterodactyls so flamboyantly cruel? The answer to both: because it makes the story more emotional.
Ah, the mark of a true professional.
I kept my hopes up that the movie would improve as the story progressed. This was Pixar, after all; maybe the story had something better in store for the end. Beginnings are bumpy, especially in an alternate-history story; maybe Pixar could get the thing off the ground in the second half of the movie.
Which, of course, must wait for next week…
What do you think? If you were one of the few people who went to see The Good Dinosaur, I want to hear your take on the beginnings.