Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Good Dinosaur

(PG) ★★★½

Director: Peter Sohn.

Cast: (voices of) Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn.

Acid was way better back in the day.

IF any of the other animation houses released The Good Dinosaur, you’d consider it a hit.

But by the lofty storytelling standards of Pixar, it is merely good. Really good, but still just good.

Being released the same year as possibly Pixar’s greatest film – Inside Out – means it’s impossible not to look at the two movies side by side, which puts The Good Dinosaur at a disadvantage. Next to the remarkable script of Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur feels so simple, conventional and even clich├ęd.

Thankfully, like all Pixar films (bar Cars 2), The Good Dinosaur has so much heart and integrity and so deftly handles its jokes and emotions that you can overlook the plainness of the story.

The set-up is intriguing – in a bizarro world where the asteroid that wipes out the dinosaurs misses Earth, we end up with a dino-society of sorts.

The herbivores are crop farmers, the carnivores run cattle, and the humans are not that different from the other non-sapient mammals running around.

Our hero is Arlo (Ochoa), a scared little apatosaurus desperate to “make his mark” but haunted by a family tragedy.

A run-in with a human child, who Arlo names Spot (Bright), whisks the pair a long way from Arlo’s home, and the two must work together to make it back.

The Good Dinosaur’s plot is of the Homeward Bound variety, with a boy-and-his-dog dynamic thrown in – the twist being the boy is actually a dinosaur and the dog is actually a boy.

Once Arlo and Spot team up, the film finds its feet as it gets a much-needed sense of humour and stops labouring its message about overcoming fear in order to make your mark in the world.

It’s still a very normal story dressed up in some rather eccentric clothes, and at times the movie almost feels too weird for its own good. We get cowboy tyrannosaurs, storm-chasing pterosaurs, and raptor rustlers, but weirdest of all is the look of the dinosaurs, which takes a while to get used too. The photo-realistic world they live in is visually stunning, but it makes the cartoonish, plasticine-like characters seem out of place.

Despite its formulaic story, it still manages to the push the right buttons. There will be a few happy tears at the end, and there are a couple of decent laughs.

In the wake of Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur could be seen as a deliberate attempt at a simpler film that’s more kiddie-friendly and less cerebral and inventive.

As such, The Good Dinosaur is good enough, even if it’s not as Pixar perfect as we’ve come to expect.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Inside Out

(PG) ★★★★★

Director: Pete Docter.

Cast: (voices of) Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Richard Kind.

"They elected who as president?"

INSIDE Out is proof positive that when the Pixar brains trust puts its collective mind to an idea, they can do anything.

The thought of doing a film largely set within the head of an 11-year-old girl and where the principle characters are her emotions would send every other animation studio reaching for the metaphorical paracetamol before immediately turning its attention to another Madagascar/Ice Age/Shrek/Despicable Me sequel/spin off.

Not Pixar. Having already pushed the boundaries by using a grumpy elderly widower as a hero, making a largely wordless enviro-centric sci-fi flick, and celebrating the joys of food with a cast of rats, the concept at the heart of Inside Out is a bold yet natural progression for this game-changing institution.

But the fact that they pull off this hair-brained idea so brilliantly and beautifully is enough to make you want to stand up and applaud.

The 11-year-old girl in question is Riley (voiced by Dias) and the emotions in charge of the control room that is her mind are Joy (Poehler), Fear (Hader), Disgust (Kaling), Anger (Black), and Sadness (Smith). All are tested when Riley and her folks (Lane and MacLachlan) sell up their Minnesota home and relocate to San Francisco, triggering something of an emotional breakdown for the girl and her anthropomorphic feelings.

Director Docter (Up, Monsters Inc), the screenwriters, and Pixar's brain trust reportedly spent three and a half years getting the story of Inside Out exactly right, and it shows.

The script sets up Riley's internal world with an ease that belies the amount of thought, research and sweat that must have gone into it - in the charmingly simple opening, we're introduced to the emotions, their roles, and the creative way the film demonstrates such intangible concepts as making and storing memories and the things that are important to Riley in her own mind.

At its simplest it's a journey story - two of the characters are trying to get from one place to another - but that journey takes us through some fascinating locations we've never seen in a family film before. Abstract thought, the subconscious, the imagination, "the dream factory", long-term memory - these are all shown in inventive ways, as are the critters that populate these areas.

But this is so much more than just a journey. There is a level of depth, heart, reality, beauty, honesty and, of course, emotion in this film that is astounding for any type of movie, let alone something that's largely marketed to kids.

At the lowest age bracket, which is lower primary school-age children, there is enough light and movement to keep them interested, plus they're bound to have a basic enough grasp of different emotions to keep track of things.

At the "tween" level (and for early teens), the subject matter is bound to resonate, as they've just gone through these kind of pre-pubescent mental shifts or are just about to go through them. It's dealt with so simply and truthfully that it has to hit the mark.

Realistically though, this is a movie for the parents. This film is a grown-up wolf in kid's clothing, or mutton dressed as lamb, to labour the sheep analogies.

It's bright colours and cartoonish characters may make it look like its targeted at the young'uns, however the beautifully nuanced ideas such as the loss of innocence and the importance of sadness reveal this as the mature think-piece it really is. It's a movie about kids trying to understand who they are, and as a result, it's about and for parents trying to understand their kids.

Inside Out is also laugh-at-loud funny, cry-out-loud moving, and genuinely thrilling, exciting and fascinating.

Picking the greatest Pixar movie was already difficult, but the arrival of their latest effort just made it all the harder.