Sunday, February 21, 2016

Video review: "The Good Dinosaur"

"Shaun the Sheep" got an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, but "The Good Dinosaur" did not? Color me confused.

In a relatively weak year for animated pictures, "The Good Dinosaur" stands out for me as marginally the best of the lot. Certainly better than the cute-but-predictable "Shaun," or the weird-for-weird's-sake "Anomalisa." I'll even take it over the giddy but hardly superior fellow traveler in the Disney/Pixar universe, "Inside Out."

(The other two Academy Award nominees are foreign language films that haven't been widely released on these shores.)

I enjoyed "Dinosaur" because it was an empathetic, vibrantly told tale with some originality and verve. It's about a juvenile dinosaur, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), who gets separated from his family and falls in with a feral human boy, Spot (Jack Bright). In one of the movie's many clever twists, here the reptiles are the evolved species that talk and use tools, while the homo sapiens are primitives who use their beastly skills to survive -- in Spot's case, mostly by stealing from Arlo's clan.

It's a familiar 'hero's journey' type of story, with Arlo having to experience all kinds of scary, and occasionally thrilling, adventures in order to find his rightful place in the world.

It's a beautifully rendered planet, with the humans and dinosaurs drawn in a deliberately cartoon-y way, while all of the natural backdrops and supporting critters are super realistic. You'd think the combination would be off-putting, but after a bit we settle in and it feels right.

Screenwriter Meg LaFauvre's script is a solid mix of familiar elements -- a little bit "Finding Nemo," a smidgen of "The Lion King" -- and new stuff. The story has a way of scaring us just when we thought things were safe, and turning fearsome encounters on their head.

It did pretty mediocre at the box office, so there's a good chance you didn't see "The Good Dinosaur" in theaters. Give it the second chance it richly deserves on video.

Bonus features are quite good. In addition to a feature-length commentary track by director Peter Sohn and key crew members, there are also three deleted scenes, five making-of featurettes, some original animation used for promotional purposes, and the animated short "Sanjay's Super Team" -- which DID get an Oscar nomination.



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