Review – Jurassic Pixar Disappoints (“The Good Dinosaur”)

Despite a title like a 60’s Little Golden Book for kids, this latest CGI animated feature film from Pixar/Disney borrows heavily the plot and themes from The Lion King with a young anthropomorphic dinosaur, traumatized by seeing his father’s death, and then being alienated from his family in order to find his courage and strength.

Imagine if that asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs didn’t happen and humans evolved along side of them. Also imagine dinosaurs being cute and rounded, talking with Texas and Southern accents, and homesteading like early pioneers. Got that? Good! Say hello to the Apatosaurus family: father Henry (voiced by Jeffrey Wright), his wife Ida (Frances McDormand), and their kids Libby (Maleah Padilla), smart-ass Buck (Marcus Scribner), and the scaredy-cat and runt of the litter, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa).

Arlo, afraid of everything and nerves of Jell-O, is given instructions to guard the family corn silo from a thief, who turns out to be a feral human child about 5-years-old. Henry and Arlo give chase after the critter, but Henry is killed by a sudden flash flood, leaving Arlo devastated. Filled with remorse and guilt, Arlo goes after the child for revenge and gets hopelessly lost after he falls into the strong river current. Miraculously, Arlo survives and slowly begins to bond with the kid who decides to feed the giant green lizard.

Deciding to keep the thing as a pet, Arlo names him Spot, and finds out that they have more in common than he realized. Together they have several perilous adventures including escaping from Thunderclap (Steve Zahn), a rather psychopathic pterodactyl and his gang and, in a Wild West left turn, helping out a family of good ol’ T-Rex’s (A. J. Buckley as Nash, Anna Paquin as Ramsey, and Sam Elliot as their dad, Butch).

Arlo and Spot are ingratiated as ‘hired hands’ to help the Tyrannosauruses get their herd of stolen long-horned prehistoric bison back from some ‘rustlers’ (Velociraptors). After winning an exciting battle, Arlo and Spot almost make it back home, but those dang pterodactyls just won’t give up without a fight. Arlo, in true Lion King style, finds strength in his father’s spirit and leaves behind his cowardliness.

Aimed directly at children, this mediocre and rather conventional film is generally disappointing, especially coming from the guys that gave us such strong feature films like the recent Inside/Out, Brave, and The Incredibles. Yes, you have Pixar’s undeniable CGI which is flawless, photo-realistic, and breath-taking to see, but the screenplay by Meg LaFauve is like reading one of those second-grade Little Golden Books to your kids; even the title suggests the same. The characters are even drawn cartoon-y, unlike the ones that Pixar usually gives us in Ratatouille or Finding Nemo.

This is director Peter Sohn’s first feature film who, up until now, only directed a short film and did some voice-overs for Pixar. With five credited story writers, the plot is a jumbled mash-up of The Lion King, The Incredible Journey, The Land Before Time franchise, and The Jungle Book. This film had a troubled history with false starts and stops, and placing Sohn in at the last minute. The plot even underwent some major changes as well. Now, don’t get me wrong, even though the story was rudimentary, there were some exciting moments that dazzled and heart-felt scenes that tugged at the ol’ heartstrings. Nobody else can do that better than Pixar; they’ve got a lock on that.

NOTE: The short film, Sanjay’s Super Team, precedes the movie. It’s about a little Eastern Indian boy and his wild imagination when he decides to combine his father’s Hindu faith teachings with his favorite TV super-hero show. Written and directed by first time Sanjay Patel, it’s actually more entertaining than the feature film!

PREHYSTERIA! (1993)
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A boy and his dinosaur, what could be cuter? How about FIVE dinosaurs!? During the monster success of Jurassic Park, film maker Charles Band (the Ghoulies and Puppet Master horror franchises) decided to put out a series of innocent kiddie movies with cutsie little dinosaurs in them… along with really horrible scripts and truly terrible acting.

The first of three movies was Prehysteria!, a ridiculous and silly children’s story about villainous Rico Sarno (Stephen Lee), an evil museum curator who enters a South American forbidden temple and discovers a nest of five eggs, which he steals for his museum back home. Meanwhile, single father and former paleontologist Frank Taylor (Brett Cullen), sells fossils to Rico to make ends meet since farming don’t pay the bills.

In a wild and convenient mix up, the Taylor’s dog accidentally grabs a cooler at the museum; the one which has the eggs. And wouldn’tcha know it!? Those eggs (thanks to the dog incubating them) hatch! The Taylor kids, Monica (Samantha Mills) and Jerry (Austin O’Brien), discover the little dinosaurs and squeal with joy, naming them after their favorite rock stars. There’s Jagger the Stegosaurus, Paula the Brachiosaurus, Madonna the Pterandon, Hammer the Triceratops, and Elvis the T-Rex.  For some reason, the dinosaurs are all squawking adorable miniature versions of the blood-thirsty creatures from millions of years ago. Go figure.

Anyway, dad finds out, wacky shenanigans follow, and Vicki (Colleen Morris), a woman who works for Rico, sees the dinosaurs and tells the Taylors not to give them back to Rico because he will exploit them. But naturally, Rico does find out, and hires two goofball robbers to get the dinosaurs back. But thanks to the creepy museum janitor (Tom Williams), a switcheroo is made at a crucial news press conference, and Rico is made a laughing stock and the little dinosaurs are returned safely back home with the Taylors. Two more sequels were made in 1994 and 1995, and each one was worse than the previous one.

Written by Michael Davis, Mark Goldstein, and Greg Suddeth, this truly awful film (and its spawned brothers) was aimed directly at the kiddie market for the extreme cutsie factor of the mini-rubber animatronic dinosaur puppets that drove the sugary-laden script and terribly predictable story with all it’s fantastic coincidences, gigantic plot holes, and third-rate acting.

Director/producer Band, after years of making horror and science-fiction movies, wanted to make a kids movie with “no hard edge” to it and decided that THIS was the route he’d take. Thanks to Jurassic Park’s same-year opening and runaway blockbuster sales, this movie was a huge hit as well, riding on the coat-tails of Spielberg’s success. Smart move, really. The dreadful sequels, however, were another story. They were straight-to-VHS disasters.

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