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The Good Dinosaur: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

The Good Dinosaur (2015) movie poster The Good Dinosaur

Theatrical Release: November 25, 2015 / Running Time: 94 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Peter Sohn / Writers: Meg LeFauve (screenplay & story); Bob Peterson (story, original concept & development); Peter Sohn, Erik Benson, Kelsey Mann (story)

Voice Cast: Jeffrey Wright (Poppa), Frances McDormand (Momma), Maleah Nipay-Padilla (Young Libby), Ryan Teeple (Young Buck), Jack McGraw (Young Arlo), Marcus Scribner (Buck), Raymond Ochoa (Arlo), Jack Bright (Spot), Peter Sohn (Forrest Woodbush the Pet Collector), Steve Zahn (Thunderclap), Mandy Freund (Downpour), Steven Clay Hunter (Coldfront), A.J. Buckley (Nash), Anna Paquin (Ramsey), Sam Elliott (Butch), David Boat (Bubbha), Carrie Paff (Lurleane), Calum Grant (Pervis), John Ratzenberger (Earl)

Buy The Good Dinosaur from Amazon.com:
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Pixar Animation Studios combatted claims that they have become too reliant on franchises and compensated for taking 2014
off with The Good Dinosaur, the company's second original film of 2015 and first fall theatrical release since 2004.

Neither sequel nor prequel nor spin-off, Good Dinosaur is not based on anything and that much is apparent throughout. This movie arrived two years after its original announced release date. The delay was the result of extensive creative retooling, a process that entailed a now practically commonplace ouster of the original director (in this case, longtime Pixar writer, Up co-director, and Roz voice Bob Peterson, who remains at the studio, where he moved on to Finding Dory), layoffs of a few dozen employees, and the elimination of most voice cast members who had recorded dialogue. Many movies have overcome high-profile challenges during production, including some of Pixar's more revered works. But, though it may have gotten finished and in time for a lucrative Thanksgiving week opening, The Good Dinosaur never feels like it has conquered its creative obstacles and does not approach the heights of the studio's better works, a class that includes only Inside Out from the last five years of output.

Arlo bonds with his Poppa over lightning bugs, which means it's only a matter of time before he loses him.

The Good Dinosaur is set in an alternate version of Earth where the asteroid that made dinosaurs extinct misses our planet altogether. Dinosaurs continue to roam the Earth and have evolved quite a bit. Our focus is on a family of dinosaurs that numbers five after excited parents watch their three eggs hatch within seconds of each other. The children are Buck, Libby, and Arlo. It is Arlo, by far the smallest and most timid of the triplets, who fills the title role. He is slower to come into his own than his siblings, struggling to take on the responsibilities of this family of... corn farmers.

Assigned to take care of a captured critter, Arlo can't even do that right. He soon joins the ranks of Simba, Bambi, Nemo and other animated protagonists who lose a parent prematurely. He blames the critter -- a human boy we eventually come to know as Spot -- for his father's death, but the young dinosaur and dog-like boy are about to embark on a big journey together.

The biggest conceit here is that in this universe, it is the dinosaurs who are civilized and verbal. Spot is adorably feral, communicating only in the infrequent howl and grunt. The two butt heads as they encounter a variety of creatures: from cuddly critters who are blown out of their molehills for fun to some treacherous Pterodactyls to a family of Tyrannosauruses. The adventure is episodic and routine. The universe is far less rich and complex than any other one Pixar has developed. Even if Cars 2 was a mess and is indeed a slightly worse film than this, at least it had a lot going on. This one is Pixar's thinnest and least imaginative story yet.

In "The Good Dinosaur", a feral boy tags along with a young dinosaur on an adventure.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time that Pixar, who has consistently crammed so much more thought, emotion, art, and imagination into their films than the competition,
delivered something lightweight and almost instantly forgettable. Had this come before Inside Out, as originally planned, the decorated trendsetters would only have been subjected to heightened scrutiny and concerns from those old enough to remember a world before Pixar. Instead, we need only to think as far back to Inside Out, one of the very best films of last year, to remember that the company is still perfectly capable of producing transcendent cinema that excites all ages. Good Dinosaur pales in comparison to that and practically every other Pixar film. It's a movie that wouldn't strike us as easily the best thing to come out of one of those other less innovative animation houses like Blue Sky and Sony Pictures Animation.

Even so, the film is not without charm. There are a couple of moments of emotional poignancy. The locations are dazzling and almost mistakable for the live-action settings Disney used on their 2000 movie Dinosaur. The trees, mountains, and rivers show us just how far Pixar has come at depicting natural environments. On the other hand, as if to distinguish itself from Disney's photorealistic Dinosaur CGI, the studio opts for a cartoony character design. That old principle of squash and stretch, preached by Walt's Nine Old Men, is very much on display, especially in Arlo, who despite embodying some real anatomical features (like injured knees that won't properly bend) operates a bit more like TV's "Denver the Last Dinosaur" than The Land Before Time's Littlefoot. Pixar has certainly gone cartoony before (see Brave, for instance), but the character design here isn't so easy to love. Spot kind of looks like a reject from The Croods.

Good Dinosaur assigns sole directing credit to Peter Sohn, who has climbed the ranks at Pixar from story artist and production artist to writing and directing the Up-preceding short Partly Cloudy. Sohn is just one of five individuals credited with the story, along with Peterson and Inside Out co-scribe Meg LeFauve, the only one given screenplay credit.

Although timing was on its side, Good Dinosaur followed in the footsteps of Cars 2 and Monsters University, becoming only the third Pixar film to be denied even a nomination in the Oscars' Best Animated Feature category since the award was introduced in 2001. It had no chance of knocking LeFauve's better 2015 film that spent the entire year as a frontrunner and although its omission surprised some, I was not among them.

Forrest Woodbush, a Styracosaurus with animals perched all over him, is one of the many fellow dinosaurs Arlo encounters on this episodic journey.

There isn't always a strong correlation between the quality of a film and its commercial success (see the Transformers series), but Pixar's releases have quite consistently reflected their appeal in their box office results. That tradition would indicate that The Good Dinosaur was the studio's least appealing film to date. Its domestic gross of $123 million was downright pitiful for Pixar, especially given its estimated $200 million budget. It's the studio's worst performer by a wide margin, having sold barely half as many tickets as Cars 2 and barely a third as many as A Bug's Life, whose 15th of 16 standing in the records ignores nearly two decades' worth of substantial ticket price inflation. Of course, foreign markets helped and The Good Dinosaur amassed nearly $200 million from there (that's still less than every Pixar movie since the original Toy Story made -- ignoring inflation -- over 20 years ago in an entirely different global film climate). But there is no way to spin the numbers as a success and Good Dinosaur doesn't even have a sliver of the retail presence that made the company content with the domestic numbers of Cars 2. In short, Good Dinosaur truly is Pixar's first clear cut flop.

Whether reflecting the poor showing or a plan to capitalize on anticipated Oscar exposure, The Good Dinosaur hit home video at the end of February, just under three months after opening in theaters. Though one of the rare Disney titles available in a Blu-ray 3D combo pack, the studio sent just the two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack for review.

The Good Dinosaur: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.39:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS-HD HR (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: February 23, 2016
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Ultimate Collector's Edition ($39.99 SRP), as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

You know that even a lesser Pixar film is going to have merit technically and that is true of The Good Dinosaur. I've already discussed the film's interesting visual approach, which places unappealing cartoony character design in a stunningly realistic natural universe. Repeatedly, your eyes may be drawn away from the characters you should be investing in and towards the scenery around them, which is never a good thing in film. The Blu-ray's direct digital 2.39:1 presentation is expectedly without issue, boasting sharp, vibrant images throughout. Those are complemented by a lively and potent 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. As always, Pixar also takes the step of including mixes designed for those with 5.1 and 2.0 speaker setups and authors the disc so that onscreen text (in this case, simply the credits) matches the language of a chosen dub, of which there are French and Spanish ones.

Hindu gods become superheroes to an Indian boy in the short "Sanjay's Super Team." Pixar employees make dinosaurs under creative limitations in "Recyclosaurus."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with Sanjay's Super Team (7:07), the Oscar-nominated Pixar short film that preceded The Good Dinosaur in theaters. It tells the story of an Indian boy who is torn away from his beloved superhero cartoon for some spiritual meditation with his father.
Written and directed by longtime Pixar character designer, story artist, and animator Sanjay Patel, the autobiographical 'toon shines a light on a culture rarely paid notice in Hollywood. I can't say for sure whether its treatment of Hindu gods as superheroes is as offensive as it might seem to some (I'm guessing not, with Disney and Pixar behind it). I can say that the short kind of lost my interest about halfway in. Overlong and not terribly fun, at least it looks and plays different than the company's other joke-based shorts and was far from the worst thing competing for that Animated Short Oscar, which went to the stop-motion Chilean 'toon Bear Story.

Next up, we get "True Lies About Dinosaurs" (1:56), a short, kid/Ross-oriented piece about the creative licenses taken by the film's invention based on what we know (and don't know) about dinosaurs and prehistoric eras.

"Recyclosaurus" (6:19) shows the different departments of Pixar engaging in a competition to build dinosaurs from materials taken from the studio's "free shelf" and one roll of duct tape. Displaying the creativity you expect, these employees take the challenge seriously, which makes this something fun and different while still relevant to the film.

Director Peter Sohn gives feedback to animators at a shot briefing. In "Following the T-Rex Trail", the filmmakers observe an Oregon family of cattle herders as a model for the T-Rex family in the movie.

"The Filmmakers' Journey" (7:54) is the closest we get to a general making-of featurette. Only vaguely acknowledging the difficulties of production as a time crunch, the piece sees first-time director Peter Sohn and crew visiting the West for inspiration.

"Every Part of the Dinosaur" (6:08) looks at Pixar's creative process from the perspective of character animation, with looks at the animals used as reference and at a typical shot briefing.

"Following the T-Rex Trail" (6:58) shows us the production's research trip to Oregon, where they observed the McKays, a family of cattle herders comprised of an old married couple and their six now grown-up children adopted from Haiti.

Papa and Arlo construct the silo that features in the film in this deleted scene. A cute critter mugs for the camera in one of the animated gags of "Dino Bites."

A deleted scenes section (10:41) consists of three scenes that are individually and collectively introduced by director Peter Sohn. Presented in story reel format, they each show us more of Arlo's family life, the longest showing us the dino farmers building the silo.

Next up is the obligatory audio commentary, which typical for Pixar gathers a bunch of important crew members together to discuss the film on different levels. Director Peter Sohn is joined by story supervisor Kelsey Mann, animation supervisor Mike Venturini,

director of lighting Sharon Calahan, and supervising technical director Sanjay Bakshi. The talk is fairly technical in nature, though we do get a little insight into the evolution of the story that is mostly ignored elsewhere on the disc. They mention The Black Stallion as a visual inspiration and share some of the rationale behind different decisions. If you're gonna pass on a Pixar commentary, this is probably the one unless you are determined to become a Pixar artist.

"Dino Bites" (4:15) is a reel of little bits of nonverbal character animation which play out against painterly backgrounds and in the film's full 3D universes. We've seen this kind of gag-driven content that could be used for anything in any country on other Pixar movies and though it caught my cat's attention, I found it unremarkable.

"Hide and Seek" (0:59) is a short clip of Arlo and Spot playing hide and seek. Spot is very good at hiding. Arlo? Not so much.

Last but perhaps not least, we get three original Good Dinosaur theatrical trailers out of who knows how many were produced around the globe. The three are North American trailer #2 "Moment" (2:25), Russian trailer "Courage" (2:30), and German trailer "Different" (2:03). It's always interesting to see how movies are promoted in other parts of the world, so kudos to Pixar for including these.

As usual, consumers still content with DVD get the short end of the stick. The only extras they get are Sanjay's Super Team and the audio commentary. At least the FastPlay-enhanced disc is filled kind of close to DVD-9 capacity.

The scenic photorealistic settings of "The Good Dinosaur" are on display in the DVD and Blu-ray menus.

The discs open with a Digital HD promo (the way of the future!) and teasers for Finding Dory and Zootopia. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing will make you think you selected something else, because it opens with a 3-minute, 41-second promo for the Wyoming Dinosaur Center before running ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Disney Store, and repeating the Dory and Zootopia previews (but not the Digital HD spot).

The menu surveys the film's scenic photorealistic locations while score plays. As usual, the Blu-ray will remember where you left off on the film, but doesn't make resuming playback a snap. And forget about setting bookmarks, because Disney still isn't down with that.

Topped by an extensively embossed slipcover, the side-snapped keepcase holds your Disney Movie Rewards/Disney Movies Anywhere code and a Disney Movie Club ad alongside the two uniquely illustrated full-color discs (which only Pixar gets these days at Disney).

A T-Rex herding family swaps scar stories around the campfire before an impressed and welcomed Arlo.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A second viewing of The Good Dinosaur only confirms the film falls short of Pixar's high standard and barely lives up to the titular adjective. Jaw-dropping environments and a couple of poignant moments are not nearly enough to divert notice from what is the studio's thinnest, most episodic, and least gripping story to date.

The Blu-ray combo delivers the flawless picture and sound you expect plus a pretty solid assembly of bonus features on Blu-ray. But this is the rare Pixar release that doesn't belong in every movie library. Obviously if you've been collecting the studio's every effort, you may be compelled to pick this up. Still, I can't see this being a film people revisit with any frequency.

Buy The Good Dinosaur from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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New to Disc: The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar • Capture the Flag • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs • Brooklyn • Grease Live! • Creed
Inside Out • Monsters University • Brave • Cars 2 • Toy Story 3 • Up • WALL•E • Ratatouille
Cars • The Incredibles • Finding Nemo • Monsters, Inc. • Toy Story 2 • A Bug's Life • Toy Story
Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1 • Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2
Dinosaurs: Dinosaur • Jurassic World • Dinosaurs: The Complete First and Second Seasons • Meet the Robinsons
Animated Journeys: Brother Bear • The Emperor's New Groove

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Reviewed March 18, 2016.



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