The Good Dinosaur – not a Good Film

My eldest son turned 6 on Sunday. For a birthday treat, we took him and two of his friends to the cinema to see The Good Dinosaur. It’s a Pixar film, right, what could go wrong

Well, there’s the small matter of the film being terrible, for one thing.

There was a meme that did the rounds a while ago, on Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling – . I would suggest they have forgotten their own rules… especially the rule to “get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.” The Good Dinosaur is hugely generic and predictable, obviously borrowing from better films (Dumbo, Jungle Book, Lion King), but losing in the translation, like a piece of paper photocopied again and again, losing resolution each time.

So, in the modern style, here are my 5 reasons why this film sucked. Here, there be SPOILERS.

1 – It’s called The Good Dinosaur. Does the title have ANY relevance to the film? Do they even make good use of having dinosaurs in the film? No.
Dinosaurs have evolved into human-type farmers. This is just another cowboy film.
(Hint to American film producers – I can’t speak for the whole world, obviously, but we are far less fascinated by cowboys, and the Wild West, than you guys… try something different. Please.)

2 – The “driver” for Arlo initially is that he literally wants to make his mark. So what? Don’t we all? This is not a big enough reason to root for him, and the tidal boar that killed off his dad terrified the small children in the audience (as did the pterodactyls later). It all just felt misjudged – something that isn’t usually a problem with Pixar.

3 – The main “plot” is Arlo’s journey home. This is linear and predictable, as are the obstacles that inevitably get in their way. Does Arlo change on his journey? Well, he bonds with the human-dog-child (their relationship is the only bright spark in the film), and becomes less afraid, but… is that it?

4 – The ending is so predictable that the 6 year olds saw it coming… They have seen Jungle Book. There is literally no reason why I would watch this film again. No quotable dialogue, no original characters, no twist in the tail… It’s disappointing on almost every level.

5 – And the killer for me… This doesn’t even feel like a Pixar film. There is none of the verbal comedy, the interplay between characters that we have come to love. Worse still, this just feels like a Disney film without the songs. If this is the future of Disney-Pixar, melding the worst of either side of the equation, count me out. The scenery may look beautiful, but if I wanted only that I’d watch the National Geographic channel.

With the next Pixar films due out being some unnecessary sequels (Finding Nemo is one of the best films ever made, of any genre… but it doesn’t need a sequel… and Toy Story 3 is the best third act of any film trilogy series – inc LOTR – but know when to quit…), I worry that the golden era of this studio has already been and gone.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong.


Star Wars countdown… The Phantom Menace

Every Saturday night, my wife and I have a “film night” with our 5 year old son. This can be a mixed bag… for every viewing of an Avengers film, or the Back to the Future trilogy, we have had to suffer through Spy Kids, or Book of Life. As long as there are snacks, my son is generally happy, and it means we get to spend some quality family time together, without the 2 year old feeling left out, causing his usual brand of mayhem, or demanding Big Hero 6 or Toy Story 2 or 2 again.

In just over six weeks time, the three of us have tickets to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, we have our tickets already.

Putting these two facts together (film night, plus Star Wars incoming), we asked our son if he wanted to re-watch the Star Wars films before the new film comes out. “Yes. All of them.” he replied immediately, before I had a chance to narrow the options down to the original trilogy…

So, we’ve just re-watched Phantom Menace together. Have my thoughts on this changed over time? Not really. Here are the ten things that suck most about Phantom Menace:

1- Nobody cares about taxation disputes. Sure, it’s possible that there are tax lawyers out there, rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of a major film finally giving this issue the long-overdue attention it merits… go and watch The Firm again, and be merry.

2- Anakin Skywalker is just too young. Imagine if Obi Wan had met him at about the same age as we meet Luke… Then contrast father against son over time as Anakin slowly turns evil. We’ll never know now how this would have worked out. Thanks, George.

3- Midichlorians. Just don’t.

4- Every scene is too “busy“. It’s like a cartoon for kids with ADHD… Whether on Tattooine, or Naboo, or Coruscant, there’s just too much background getting in the way of the foreground detail. Less is more. The financial and technical constraints of the original trilogy made for a far more believable set of locations, all at the outer reaches of the galaxy. We need to feel the dirt.

5- The stupidly stupid racist accents, especially on Naboo.

6- Are you an angel? No, you little pervert. What are you, like ten years old?

7- Yippee! No.

8- One of the most important men in the galaxy can apparently hide his identity by wearing a hoodie, and NO ONE recognises him… I look forward to the day that Barack Obama tries that to slip out for a pizza.

9- Anakin building 3-PO. Really?

10- Comedy droids. Roger roger; I’m out.

All that, and no room for Jar Jar. (He needs his own top ten countdown, but I’m not doing that.)

So, what did work?

That lightsaber finale. Awesome. From the double ended sabre lighting up, to the final sequence between Maul and Obi Wan… Oh, what glory there could have been. Ewan McGregor is patchy in this film (hampered by the wooden dialogue and the silly hair), but he really sells the finale. When he’s itching to get through the final implausible delaying mechanism to get to the man who has just killed his mentor, I’m right there with him, and the following sequence is so well-choreographed and FAST it still gives me goosebumps every time. I’ll even overlook the (entirely unbelievable) way he somersaults over Maul at the end, without Maul just slicing Obi Wan up the middle.

The sound effects in the podrace are amazing, taking you right into the pilot’s seat. Which is a good job, as the visuals are overdone and cartoony.

That Duel of the Fates song is incredible. Up there with the Imperial March for me.

When we got to the penultimate scene, with Qui-Gon’s funeral pyre, my son asked “Daddy, why are they not toasting marshmallows?”… maybe the next step should be to record a 5-year old’s “director’s commentary” DVD extra?

So, onto Attack of the Clones next week… A New Hope seems very far away, let alone The Force Awakens!


Haiku – “Gold” & “Crane”

#1 – Canal-side
A golden silence
Cranes and herons together
Waiting for the dawn

#2 – Cuisine
Small, kitchen helper,
With angelic golden hair
Craning for a taste!

#3 – Cultural
Crane kick to bully
Wins an unlikely gold for
The karate kid

#4 – Plot summary for those who’ve never seen The Karate Kid
Miyagi teaches
“Wax on, wax off, Daniel-san”;
Wins gold with crane kick


Weekly Haiku Challenge – “Free” & “Think”

A batch of three haiku for Ronovan’s challenge this week, with the prompt words “think” and “free”. Top marks for anyone who can separate the two references in the second haiku…

The world isn’t safe
Despite our best intentions
Need more free thinkers

My life is a cage
Thoughts bounded in a nutshell
But onstage, I’m free

An old lie, I think:
The dignity of labour
That work sets you free


For Emma (poem)

I want to say I love you
But it’s all been said before.
So many wordy platitudes
And all with the same flaw.

I want to be original
To show my love is true.
Find a new way to express
The way I feel for you.

I tried simply being modest,
But that just felt too quiet.
My feelings turned erotic…
But I’m too shy to try it.

I toyed with being practical,
Of companionship for life,
But that was pre-included,
When you agreed to be my wife.

I thought about hyperbole
But that just got bizarre.
I considered trying Klingon
But that’s a step too far…

I even tried more modern ways
And first it seemed quite clever
But then I felt a total tit…
It said ” SoulMates 4eva”

So how to end this missive?
Only one way will do.
Like me, a trite, imperfect,
Simple, sweet, “I love you”