Every once in a while, Hollywood forgets itself and releases films that are almost identical plot-wise. Similar settings, similar characters, similar resolutions. It's almost as if the studios are racing against each other to see who will release their film about That Specific Thing first. Some examples are: Friends with Benefits/No Strings Attached, White House Down/Olympus Has Fallen, Deep Impact/Armageddon -- you get the idea.
Now, in this past year something similar has happened. Within two months two films were released that I believe have very similar plot points and beats, and while perhaps they are not equals in many ways, it seems strange that a children's film would end up being comparable to one of this season's hottest Oscar nominees. So let's begin.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu is the latest Hollywood sweetheart director. He is the genius mind behind the groundbreaking Birdman, and his visuals are unparalleled. His newest release, The Revenant, has been received with mixed opinions (as a cinema usher, I have seen many eye-rolls from my co-workers with regards to this film) but there is a general consensus that the film does indeed look fantastic. It was shot in natural light and the camera work is graceful and skilful. The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto is gorgeous, and it elevates the film immensely. Even so, I was personally not particularly fond of this film. The plot is stodgy and kind of pointless, and Leonardo DiCaprio's over-acting verges on unwatchable at times. And as I watched it the second time today at the end of my shift at work, I realised something amazing. The Revenant is exactly the same as the latest Disney Pixar film, The Good Dinosaur.
I know it might seem like a stretch of the imagination, but if you've seen both of these films, bear with me and you will see the truth. The glass will shatter and I will have ruined two films with one stone. (Sorry in advance.)
Basic plot: both films are about family, the need to persevere for the sake of family, and strength of character. Glass and Arlo are not dissimilar characters -- both have a strong bond with a male figure in their lives (Glass with his son Hawk, Arlo with his father) and both are deeply affected by the death of this person during a journey into the forest.
Moving on from there, the coincidences continue. The forests in both films are very much alike, covered in firs and pine trees, and the looming threat of winter in The Good Dinosaur is mirrored in the claustrophobic snow in The Revenant. Throughout both films, as the characters struggle to go back home, they confront many different kinds of storms which hinder their treks and further wound them. In fact, this journey home is another congruent point in both films. Glass's company has to go back to the camp through the woods after leaving the river, and Glass needs to make his own way back once he has been left for dead by Fitzgerald. During this part of his journey, he ends up being washed away by the river and ends up in a different location, much further and with a longer way back to go, and throughout he needs to deal with many obstacles in his path -- people wanting to kill him, the freezing cold, and the lack of food. Similarly, in The Good Dinosaur, Arlo faces much of the same issues. After being washed up by the river as he is chasing Spot (in order to get revenge for his father's death) he finds himself far from home, needing to get back, and during a storm he loses his way, and has to face obstacles much like Glass. There are flying creatures who are looking to eat him, and his trauma with the storms is a constant fear which he needs to learn to overcome.
In addition, both leads encounter helpful figures to help with their journey. Glass meets an old Native American man who shares his food and helps to heal his wound. Arlo finds a friend in Spot, the little human who acts like a dog, and also in the T-Rexes who take him under their wind and help him learn about bravery (much like the Native American man teaches Glass about letting go and God's revenge.) And in the two films, the helpful figures leave them in order for the lead to complete his journey on his own. The Native American man is killed which gives Glass more of a push to continue, while Spot leaves for a human family, and the T-Rexes go on their way.
There is also a level of spirituality in both films which is striking. Throughout The Revenant, Glass constantly sees his dead wife and son in visions and dreams, while in The Good Dinosaur, Arlo encounters his father in a hallucination that helps him find his way emotionally. It's interesting because while both films are targeted at very different audiences, the spirituality resonates in the same way.
Finally, the conclusions of the story are also comparable. Perhaps not literally, since Arlo doesn't fight to the death with his arch-nemesis on the riverside, but thematically they are indeed alike. The emotional journey comes to an end as both characters achieve what they sought out to do: Glass gets his revenge, Arlo goes back home. We are left to assume that due to his extensive injures, it is likely that Glass died, and finally in death met again with his wife and son, while in The Good Dinosaur, Arlo manages to see his family again, and make his mark on the family story, which wraps up his emotional arc neatly.
In an unlikely fashion, two very different yet very similar films were released within a few months of each other. While they are targeted at very different audiences, I hope that this article showed that actually thematically and in terms of plot beats, they are pretty much the same, and achieve many of the same high points. Unfortunately, only one of them is likely to win the Academy Award.