The Bad Dinosaur, Part 2

Did you miss Part 1? If so, go read that first and then come back here for the finale of my first official movie rant. 

Alas, my hopes for the rest of the film were instead dashed on the superbly-animated rocks, for the remainder of the film had a lot of story problems, all of which violated Pixar’s 22 Rules. Perhaps the film was existentialist in nature (so to speak), but the writers certainly used a lot of coincidences and cliches. For example, when Arlo gets himself stuck under some boulders, Spot returns to dig Arlo out- despite the fact that he had no reason to help the dinosaur and every reason to stay away. Why would he come back? Because the writer wrote himself into a quandary he couldn’t solve, so he had to employ deus ex machina (definition: cheating).

Again, at the beginning of the movie, the pterodactyls killed and ate a little critter on-site, but when they capture Spot with the same intent, they hesitate to kill him just long enough for Arlo to come rescue him. This is what Blimey Cow calls “the chatty bad guy cliche.” The villain has no reason to delay except that the hero (and by that I mean the writer) is too lazy to find any other way to fix the problem, thus the villain has to play the fool and give the hero a chance to thwart his plans.

Yet again, at the climax- which is supposed to be the very worst point of the story- Spot and Arlo happen to survive the plunge over a hundred-foot waterfall. There’s twenty feet of fresh powder down there; it’ll be like landing on a pillow! Hopefully. Let’s leave aside the fact that if people went over a waterfall like that without a barrel or other such protective device, they would die.

None of these plot devices has any place in any story- except, it seems, in a story designed to represent the true hardships of real life. Right? I’m sorry, it just doesn’t make sense. None of these coincidences stands up to the test of reality; why on earth would they even pass as acceptable in a film by the number one family filmmaker?

Then there were so many smaller cliches within scenes, two of which stand out as painfully obvious. How about this refreshingly original dialogue at a pivotal scene? Arlo: Where are we going? Poppa: You’ll see. Or, when asked if he wants to sell Spot to some farming Tyrannosaurs, Arlo gives the completely unexpected response: “Actually, the droid’s not for sale.” Just think, he could have gotten forty portions for selling the kid. 

The final problem I had with this movie runs much deeper than amateur storytelling or cliches; I am concerned about the ethical views presented in the movie. In one needless scene, Arlo and Spot discover some decayed berries on the ground, and, after trying them, experience bizarre hallucinations that make them laugh hysterically. Nothing more is said about such opiates, leaving kids with the assumption that hallucinogens are funny and harmless. Elsewhere, the farming Tyrannosaurs use a swear word- the one starting with S. Hmm… Notice something here- it’s not the villainous pterodactyls or hyena-like creatures who use vulgar language; it’s the heroes, the ones who previously saved Arlo and Spot from death.

You may say I’m ridiculous; who cares about one half-finished cuss word and a silly scene lasting thirty seconds? Well, I turn around and ask you: who in 1939 cared about one expletive at the end of Gone With the Wind? But 74 years later, we are surprised at the 935 f-bombs in The Wolf of Wall Street. Who knows? In 70 years, you might be wincing at a graphic you-know-what scene in Toy Story Rebooted. Norms change, and it is “harmless” films like The Good Dinosaur who set those changes in motion.

And even if you don’t care about expletives and hallucinogens, you ought to care about how Disney and Pixar have just dropped the bar for all other filmmakers. Not only are we going to see an increase in the junky content, we’ll see a decrease in solid, plausible, edifying storytelling. Why? Because Disney is the trendsetter. They just set a bad storytelling trend for the kids, and today’s kids are tomorrow’s storytellers and audiences.

I will say this much for Pixar’s latest feature film: The climax was mostly well-developed, as it forced Arlo to make the difficult choice to face his fear and rescue his friend Spot, rather than fleeing to save himself. And of course the CGI was indescribably beautiful; if you had removed the cartoonish characters from any screenshot of the movie, I would have believed it was a photograph of a romantic South American landscape.

But decent climactic scenes and top-of-the-line graphics do little to remedy the other problems of any movie, and Disney/Pixar’s newest release does indeed have problems. If you need a Disney or Pixar fix, go rewatch an old classic like Toy Story or Cinderella. Kids need good movies, too, so don’t waste your time on the bad ones. Indeed, The Good Dinosaur is nothing short of Bad. 

What’s your verdict? Did The Good Dinosaur live up to its title?

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The Bad Dinosaur, Part 1

“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.

The-Good-Dinosaur-DI-1

My thoughts exactly. (credit)

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.