The Not-So-Good Dinosaur

If you’ve only been reading Redeeming Culture for the last couple of months, you could be forgiven for thinking that Star Wars and Christmas are the only two things that have happened since Thanksgiving.  But if you did think that, you would have missed out on Pixar’s latest release, The Good Dinosaur.

In June, I praised Pixar’s Inside Out as Pixar’s evidence for “why they’re the best in the business.”  I wasn’t alone; many called 2015 the year of the CGI-storytelling juggernaut’s “return to form”.  But 2015 was also the first year that Pixar did something unprecedented: they released two films in the same year.  And in several ways, The Good Dinosaur – while a good film – just doesn’t quite measure up.  Once again, don’t worry – there are no spoilers in this article.

This is Dreamcrusher

There’s no reason that I should have been let down by The Good Dinosaur;

  • The sets and animation were beautiful by any standard (this is probably Pixar’s most beautiful film to date).
  • Some characters were truly unique, interesting, and well-voiced.
  • The story was essentially the “Hero’s Journey”, an archetype I love seeing in films (more on the “Hero’s Journey” archetype in an upcoming post).

So why didn’t I like this film as much?

Well, first of all, it is a good film.  I did enjoy it.  And if it had been released by Sony or Dreamworks, I’d have been enthralled.  But this is Pixar, people.  The people behind The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc.  Their good films are great, and their bad films are good.  The Good Dinosaur falls somewhere near the bottom of my list of favorite Pixar movies, but that still puts it in the top 25 of animated films of all time.

And so, in a lot of ways, the film is a victim of its studio’s brilliance.  In that, it can join its own main character as one of the weaker siblings of a powerful family.

But there has to be something inherent that I didn’t like.  Something within the film that made it weaker than I wanted it to be.  My heart just didn’t love it.

You’re Me and More

Somehow, despite all the beautiful pieces that made up this film, its final status just ended up being less than the sum of its parts.

This lack of cohesion might be a result of a production process that started in 2009, having between 2 and 5 directors (depending on who you ask), a first-time director being given the reigns for the final phase of production, and a near-complete rewrite and recast in the six months before it was released.  In light of all the troubles this film faced, it’s almost a wonder that it turned out as good as it did.  I’m certainly not at my best when I’m unfocused, listening to several directors at once.  It can almost be forgiven of its faults because of the difficulty it dealt with.

But we can’t ignore the problems.

  • The beginning was overly long and slow.
  • Plot development was murky and clunky.
  • Most characters were static and one-dimensional.
  • The villains were too creepy and intense for a Pixar film.
  • The film relied quite heavily on storytelling cliches.

Something here turned my soul against truly loving this movie.

The Beauty on the Other Side

It’s in that heavy use of cliches that I think this film’s weakness really lies.  From the central core of this film to many of its individual story beats, much of The Good Dinosaur is actually obviously lifted from various other locations.

And the fact that they’ve been lifted isn’t a bad thing!  They’re being lifted from places like The Lion King and Up, which are world-class films.  Rather, the weakness lies in the heavy-handedness with which they’ve been lifted.

See, we like things to be hard to see sometimes.  We prefer to have to work for our moments of clarity and amazement.  God hid His story in our hearts – not to make it hard to find, but to make it a greater joy when we finally discover it.  And so, when it’s made painfully obvious, our hearts rebel against it as too simple.  When we can predict the beats, it seems like something we’ve seen before – not a world-shattering revelation of our souls.

But when it’s a truth hidden deep within our culture that we’ve unearthed like a treasure in a field, our heart sings all the louder.

• • •

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture, and Happy New Year!

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