Friday, November 27, 2015

The Good Dinosaur

I probably shouldn't have been able to get to this particular screening of The Good Dinosaur, what with it being downtown at 4:15pm, but I baked on work about a half hour before the 3pm early close. Everyone else in the office left at noon to "work from home" for the rest of the day, and there have been several pre-holidays where I worked am extra half hour because the bus out of Burlington passes my place of employment at half past the hour that time of day. I've banked it.

I was kind of surprised that there weren't more 3D showings to be had - of the two theaters spewing it on the way home, one was 2D-only and the other only had 3D at fairly inconvenient times. It's a shame, because both The Good Dinosaur and the short that played before it are some of the best 3D work Pixar has done, and it seems a strange pattern that the films which seem to put some work into how the third dimension gets used don't get booked that way quite as much. I wonder if it's a case of Disney having a rep for only using it reluctantly, their audience being less willing to pay extra for am entire family going out, or some interaction between the two.

At any rate, I liked this one a lot, and was gratified when it got applause at the end. Clasping for a movie is a weird thing to do unless you know the folks who programmed it (and took a risk in doing so) or cast/crew are in the house, but both times is happened in a multiplex screening this year, it seemed instructive: It was interesting, at least, to hear that people really enjoyed Jurassic World rather than it being propelled by nostalgia and saturation advertising, and that this one worked for parents and kids. A lot of what I enjoyed was its eccentricity, and I didn't know if that would translate.

Then again, maybe people just like dinosaurs that much.

"Sanjay's Super Team"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, RealD DCP)

As much as "Sanjay's Super Team" is a delightful little animated short - which it is - there seems to be something significant about it playing in thousands of theaters right before a major release on a holiday weekend as opposed to as part of an animation program at a film festival. If it's not quite something that doesn't feel the need to explain a specific culture to its mainstream American audience, it's awfully close.

It's also plenty entertaining praise of that sort of context, telling a simple sorry of a boy watching a superhero cartoon on television while his father attempts to worship and meditate on the other side of the room, only to insist young Sanjay join him. It's a cute little second-generation culture clash, put together with plenty of charm and giving impressively subtle personalities to both father and son. It would be easy to exaggerate either, but instead they're quietly different enough that their not connecting is sort of sad. If that were all the movie was, it would still be impressive.

But it's got a big segment in the middle that's equally inspired by American superheroes and Hindu mythology, and it's a grand, colorful bit of action, genuinely surprising and kind of tense in how it plays out, in part because of how it reflects Sanjay's childish fears of upsetting his father or even doing real damage by extinguishing a candle, and in part for how it's impressively choreographed and put together, using the fact that the shrine is a box to create natural bounds for a 3D presentation. The contrast with the real world is great, but the two halves of the short strengthen rather than distract from each other.

The Good Dinosaur

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, RealD DCP)

I'm not sure at what point during The Good Dinosaur I started leaning forward, eagerly anticipating whatever was going to appear on screen next, but it happened, and by the end, I was as delighted with this movie as any I'd seen all year. It's a rare combination of visually stunning, creative, and surprisingly heartfelt. Given that those are words that could also be used to describe Pixar's other exceptional film this year (Inside Out), it almost seems like an insufficient description. This movie delighted me, pure and simple.

It posits a world where no mass extinction occurred 65 million years ago, and given a few million more years, dinosaurs were able to evolve into a variety of intelligent species including a pair of brontosauri (voiced by Jeffrey Wright & Frances McDormand) whose farm soon welcomes three hatchlings. Libby & Buck are high-spirited, but Arlo (voice of Raymond Ochoa) is timid, and even backs down when charged with stopping the proto-human "critter" making off with their grain. It leads to a pair of calamitous events at the nearby river, with Arlo and the critter he eventually names "Spot" (voice of Jack Bright) swept far downstream with the frightened Arlo facing a long walk home.

It's odd that there has been little talk of the Disney company's year-2000 release Dinosaur as this movie approached release; not only do both feature young dinos of similar varieties on an incredible journey through real or extraordinarily realistic environments, but both had fairly tortured production histories on the way there. Pixar has, of course, earned a fair amount of trust with its original productions and in that case the trust is warranted, even though the script certainly shows signs of having gone through many hands - from original director Bob Peterson to another four people with story credit (including eventual director Peter Sohn) to screenwriter Meg LaFauve. This isn't always a bad thing - although there are a few run-of-the-mill moments, there are also some decidedly odd ones, and LaFauve and Sohn are mostly able to connect the work of all these different voices into something that runs fairly smoothly from start to finish.

Full review on EFC.

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