For the first time ever, Disney has released two movies made by Pixar Animation Studios in one year.
Inside Out, which should still be fresh in the minds of those who watched it, was a spectacular adventure within the mind of a young girl. Its characters were bright and vibrant. The world Pixar created felt like one of its most fully realized settings yet. And the world loved it.
Now we have The Good Dinosaur, a film that was delayed 18 months after Peter Sohn replaced Bob Peterson as director. In fact, the entire voice cast was replaced, and the story was retooled to adapt to these changes. If you've been following the development of The Good Dinosaur, then you know it's a miracle that the movie managed to get released, let alone be good.
Even for Pixar, the critical and financial success of Inside Out makes it a tough act, especially for a movie that was meant to come out in 2014. So, how does it hold up?
As many of you know, I've watched every Pixar movie more times than I can count. That's not an exaggeration. I've analyzed and dug through these movies, soaking up every creative wink from those Emeryville masterminds. And they've rarely let us down. Going into The Good Dinosaur, I wanted something more than just good. I wanted to see Pixar evolve.
And they've done it. They've made a movie that pushes animation forward in a massive way. Not since Finding Nemo have we gotten a film that makes us realize how far computer animation can go.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6 came close, but even those fine movies were just scratching the surface of what the future can really be, or what we can imagine it to be.
The photorealistic environments of The Good Dinosaur are masterpieces by themselves. Granted, the style of the dinosaurs will remind you that you're watching something that's not real, but even then, your mind will start to merge the contrast of these cartoonish designs and grounded scenery into something new.
And that's really what The Good Dinosaur is, despite much of what you'll probably read as more reviews surface. It's new. It's a step forward in a lot of ways, but not in ways that I think a lot of critics will expect.
We glean our love of any given movie from disparate elements, like the storytelling, the soundtrack, the visuals, and the performances. The quality of a film is subjective because people measure and prioritize these elements differently. One person may forgive a lackluster performance because they had a strong reaction to the storytelling, for example.
But when I watched The Good Dinosaur for the first time, I didn't find myself critiquing anything. Because every element of that film was in a nearly perfect harmony. The soundtrack. The visuals. The voices. And the story. Everything was in sync, and very little was compromised.
Granted, it's a hodgepodge of familiar stories, told in a unique way. It spins its interesting premise — what if the dinosaurs were never wiped out by an asteroid? —into a prehistoric western. Groups of T. rex herd buffalo like cowboys, and they're even animated to be shown galloping like someone riding a horse. It's something that will perk up your eyebrows as soon as you see it.
The movie becomes Finding Dino, as we watch a young apatosaurus named Arlo try to find his way back home by following a river. He's joined by a feral human he names Spot, and the two of them face the dangers of a frontier that's exciting and new. It's this combination of the familiar and unfamiliar that keep the energy of The Good Dinosaur high, and not a moment drags (something it shares with Inside Out).
The Good Dinosaur would not have worked if they had tried to be wholly original. It would have been absurd and impossible to connect with. It's an old kind of story told in an exceptional way. The simplicity is something I've been yearning for since the overcomplicated Brave fell short of expectations.
There are no cameos or easter eggs (that I noticed). Little about this movie feels ripped from the standard Pixar playbook, though their DNA is everywhere, regardless. Everything about The Good Dinosaur is stripped down to bare elements, making it feel like something different and simpler.
But even in its simple moments, The Good Dinosaurs packs heavy punches. Every hit feels real, as Arlo gets scraped and bruised during his adventure. You can feel his pain, and there's real terror when certain villains manifest themselves. What makes this tension work is the film's willingness to let creatures die left and right, despite this being a film intended for kids (which is a big reason why they'll probably love it the most).
I firmly believe this is one of the most beautiful movies ever made. Not just because it looks great, but because every second of it is intentional. Every element, from the humor to the folksy tunes, works together to produce a film that shouldn't be missed by anyone.
The Good Dinosaur is one of the best movies of the year, animated or otherwise. And while it may not be superior to Inside Out in every respect, I found it to be the more rewarding, technically proficient film. If Inside Out was a triumph in what Pixar can do with storytelling, then it's safe to say that The Good Dinosaur is their triumph in sheer beauty. It's a shining example of what Pixar can do next, in a way we haven't seen in some time.
"The Good Dinosaur" gets an A+
This marks The Good Dinosaur as my third A+ movie of the year, and as of this week, it's my favorite movie in 2015 (so far). For more info on how I rank these movies and what else I've watched, check out my Movie Power Rankings for 2015.
Also, you might be wondering...does The Good Dinosaur fit in the Pixar Theory?
More on that later.
Thanks for reading! And for those of you who've seen both Inside out and The Good Dinosaur, I want to know...