“This is Dreamcrusher. He protects me from having unrealistic goals.” -Pet Collector
It’s no secret that The Good Dinosaur has not had an easy go of it. The release date was pushed back several times due to retooling the story and a change of director, followed by replacing most of the voice cast. This is why we were left Pixarless in 2014 and 2015 was the first year to see two Pixar releases. The Good Dinosaur was released last Thanksgiving, which apparently wasn’t long enough for it to get out from under the shadow of the massively successful Inside Out released the previous June. Reviews were middling at best (including my own), and instead of giving it the huge marketing push it needed, it seemed air on the conservative side and depend on its brand, holiday release date, kid appeal and word of mouth to get the families buying tickets. This didn’t happen and it’s currently on the books as Pixar’s first financial flop.
After revisiting the film on Blu-ray, my opinion hasn’t changed much. The Good Dinosaur just doesn’t have the same appeal we’ve come to love Pixar for. Like many of their hits, it’s based on a ‘what if?’ concept (i.e What if toys came to life when we’re not around? What if monsters were just as afraid of kids as kids are of them?). What if dinosaurs never went extinct? In this alternate reality, the dinosaurs have begun cultivating land and humans are like wild animals. Our protagonist is Arlo, a young, clumsy dinosaur who’s afraid of everything and determined to prove his worth to the family farm after they lose their patriarch. One of the biggest problems with The Good Dinosaur is that there’s nothing particularly endearing about Arlo. Joy, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness seem to laze around control center while Fear is left as Arlo’s primary emotion for the film’s duration. It really should have been called The Scared Dinosaur. While Arlo overcoming his fears is a major theme in the film, it’s not enough to sustain an entire narrative, and perhaps could have been compressed into a short.
Pixar has been accused of trying to sweep this failure under the rug, but there’s no indication of that on this Blu-ray release. There’s as much care and effort put into this disc as there has been on any of Pixar’s releases in recent years, if not more. While the film may not have connected with audiences on an emotional level, there’s no denying that it contains some of Pixar’s finest animation and cinematography to date. The landscapes are particularly stunning and look great on this HD transfer. You can see the amount of care put into every frame here as Pixar animators continue to push the forward the technology and artistry of 3D animation. While the wilderness is meant to be one of the film’s primary antagonists, it’s also at odds with the more traditionally animated characters in that they clash with their photorealistic setting. In this sense, the animation is almost too good, but still makes this a proper showcase disc that should be used to sell some hi-def TVs on Best Buy’s sales floor.
They didn’t skimp on special features here either, with several featurettes and commentary that celebrate Pixar’s company culture while giving some insight into what went wrong. Of course the featurettes and commentary aren’t presented that way, this isn’t a Shout Factory release of some disastrous cult classic, but still a recent Disney film that they’re trying to recoup their losses on. So unfortunately none of the features or commentary go into the film’s rocky production history or change of directors, but after going through all the features I came up with my own theory: they overthought it. This is a rare example of Pixar’s involved process of retooling and collaboration backfiring. Having inherited the project from Bob Peterson (who still gets a ‘concept by’ writing credit), first time director Peter Sohn did not have a clear, distinct vision. Passion and talent aren’t always enough when you’re letting everyone second guess your choices. One thing you’ll notice Sohn talk about often in the features and commentary is “Arlo’s journey”, and while it’s important for a character to have an arc, more attention should have been paid to the audience’s journey.
Here’s a breakdown of the extras you’ll find on this disc:
While The Good Dinosaur didn’t pick up a nomination in the best animated feature category, its accompanying short did. Sanjay’s Super Team, tells the story of a little boy equating his father’s religious idols with his own love superheros and works well if you don’t think about it too much.
True Lies about Dinosaurs is a two minute featurette to help kids separate the facts of The Good Dinosaur from the fiction. It turns out dinosaurs never actually talked or had farms. Spread the word.
Recyclosaurus is one of those fun featurettes that show off what a cool, creative place Pixar is to work at. As light and fun as the final products often appear, I’m sure it can be a high stress environment with lots of pressure, so I enjoy seeing the ways in which try to keep it moods elevated. This often comes in the form of competitions, and in this case the competition was creating a dinosur using only things the “free table”, a place where employees leave things they no longer want but are too good to throw away. While there was a little cheating, what they came up with was truly impressive and showcases how and why this company has become synonymous with creativity.
The Filmmaker’s Journey is a general 8 minute ‘making of’ featurette that once again ignores the full story. While the director Peter Sohn is himself a rather endearing character who’s like a kid that’s been given the keys the toy store and takes that responsibility very seriously, I’m more curious about the journey of the film’s first filmmaker and the circumstances in which he departed with the project. Pixar is very composed brand, I’m sure it can’t all be laughter and dinosaur building competitions, there are likely many stories of conflict and breakdowns that never leave its walls. In hindsight, I’m sure Pixar wishes it had just stuck with The Good Dinosaur’s initial director and release date. As for Sohn, I truly hope he gets another shot at helming his own project, he certainly has the heart and passion for it and shows great potential.
Every Part of the Dinosaur is a good 6 minute featurette for animation geeks that goes into more detail around the creation of the film’s different characters. Following the T Rex Trail is another featurette that illustrates the resources Pixar makes available to its employees while researching its projects. The filmmakers are often afforded nice getaways to help with inspiration, and in this case their city boy director got to visit a cattle ranch to help develop the T-Rex rancher characters. These particular cattle herders had 6 children adopted from Haiti which makes for an interesting dynamic and apparently gave them the idea to make the ranchers a family instead of just co workers.
The disc also features three deleted scenes that never made it past early pencil drawn animatics, and it’s pretty clear why, as they wouldn’t have added anything in the way of plot or character development.
For the film’s commentary, Peter Sohn is joined by Kelsey Mann (story supervisor), Mike Venturni (animation supervisor), Sharon Calahan, (director of photography – lighting), and Sanjay Bakshi (supervising technical director). Sohn is a pro at moderating this conversation about the many aspects of filmmaking involved to make something appear effortless. It’s interesting to hear them discuss ideas like the difference between making a western and a frontier film, and paying homage to them rather than spoofing the genre. They point out subtle details and layers that they were going for, this is where the overthinking comes in, as this minutiae is particularly superfluous when the main story isn’t connecting with anyone.
Does This Deserve a Spot on Your Dork Shelf?
If you didn’t like the film the first time around, it doesn’t look like subsequent viewings will improve it. However if you’re a big Pixar nerd like me, it’s worth picking up for it’s technical beauty and insight into the process, even if the process didn’t really pan out this time around.