The Good Dinosaur

Posted on November 24, 2015 at 5:43 pm

Copyright Disney 2015
Copyright Disney 2015

“The Good Dinosaur” is the good movie. Not the great movie. Not the especially memorable movie. Just the perfectly nice and pleasant movie, much stronger in visual splendor than in storyline.

Delayed for 18 months as Disney replaced the original director and realigned the story, the seams are palpable. And too much of it is much too familiar: a mismatched pair has to find their way home (see “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story,” etc. etc.), a young animal is devastated by witnessing the death of his father through a natural disaster (see “The Lion King” — the staging is very similar), a boy with no family is cared for and preyed upon in the wilderness by animals (“The Jungle Book”), and it takes place a long, long time ago (see “Ice Age,” “The Land Before Time,” and “The Croods”).

But it is beautiful to look at, and the story is very sweet, a traditional “boy and his dog,” except here the “boy” is the dinosaur and the human is more like a pet. In the world of this film, the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs bypassed earth, and so millions of years after the real dinos died off, they are not only still here, but they are thriving. Humans are just beginning to stand erect and have not yet developed language or tamed fire (but have somehow invented very handy leaf-clothes that are woven together so well they always cover the private bits). The dinosaurs can speak and they have learned how to farm, using their snouts to plow the field and building a silo to store grains for the winter. A loving herbivore dino couple (Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand) lovingly watch their three eggs hatch as the story begins. The biggest egg produces the smallest dino baby. They name him Arlo (Raymond Ochoa).

While his brother and sister are confident and capable, Arlo is fearful and anxious. His chore is feeding the chickens and they terrify him. His parents explain that each of the children will have a chance to literally make their mark — to add their paw print to the silo to show that they have made a contribution to the family. “You’ve got to earn your mark by doing something big for something bigger than yourself,” the father dinosaur explains.

Arlo’s siblings make their marks. But Arlo cannot seem to get beyond his fears. His father gives him a chance to set a trap for the animal that has been stealing their grain. But when the creature — a little human boy — is caught, Arlo lets him go. The father dinosaur tries to teach Arlo how to handle fear. But, leading Arlo to chase after the boy, a thunderstorm swells the river and Arlo’s father only has time to save his son before he is swept away.

Arlo gets separated from his family, and the only one who can help him is the young human, who crawls on all fours and pants like a puppy. Arlo names him Spot, and together they meet a variety challenges, many involving friendly characters or predators. Highlights include a very funny Styracosaurus whose antler protuberances are occupied by birds and animals (see “Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose.”) But it is very funny to hear him introduce each of them, explaining about one of the birds, “He protects me from having unrealistic goals.” A brief visit to a collection of gophers who get literally blown out of their holes is delightfully choreographed. Sam Elliott provides just the right gravelly bass voice as another dinosaur dad who is less scary than he looks (but even that is too reminiscent of the better shark scene in “Nemo”).

The patched-together quality is most telling in a quasi-dream sequence (see “Footsteps” plaques at your aunt’s house) and an ending that seems to undercut some of what we thought we learned about what makes a family. The visuals are gorgeous, especially the clouds, the landscape, and the play of water and light. But the story is only intermittently as engaging as the background images.

Be sure to get there in time to see the short film before the feature, a heartwarming autobiographical tale about a Hindu father at his morning prayers. As he pays tribute to his deities, his son is on the other side of the room, watching a television show about superheroes. The way they are brought together has more imagination, heart, and inspiration in its brief running time than “The Good Dinosaur” has as a full-length feature.

Parents should know that this film includes extended peril, with some characters injured and killed (and eaten). There is a sad death of parent (who returns in a dream, which may be confusing or disturbing to young children), omnivorous dinosaurs with big teeth, etc., trippy fermented berries, and some potty humor.

Family discussion: How will you make your mark? Who in your family has a scar and what is the story behind it?

If you like this, try: “The Land Before Time,” “Finding Nemo,” and “Inside Out’

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3D Animation Fantasy For the Whole Family Scene After the Credits

Why all the Vampires?

Posted on August 29, 2008 at 8:00 am

Vampires are really big this year. Breaking Dawn, the fourth volume in Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series was the most eagerly anticipated book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And one of the most popular events at Comic-Con was the panel for the upcoming movie with Kristen Stewart as Bella, the human girl who is in love with a vampire.

Also popular at Comic-Con was the appearance by Anna Paquin of the new HBO series True Blood, created by Alan Ball of “Six Feet Under” and “American Beauty.” In this series, the invention of a synthetic blood product has made it possible for vampires to “come out of the coffin” and join human society.

There are many reasons for the enduring appeal of the vampire myths, which date back thousands of years and recur in different forms in the folklore of many different cultures. The most popular modern conception is based in the Eastern European stories that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That has inspired classic movies from spooky classics (Dracula) to silly comedies (Dracula – Dead and Loving It, Once Bitten, and the unforgettably titled The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me but Your Teeth Are in My Neck). Vampires have been played by everyone from Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt to Jim Carrey, Wesley Snipes, Catherine Deneuve, the Coreys (Haim and Feldman), Humphrey Bogart, and in an hilarious SNL skit, James Woods. And they have been fought by everyone from Hugh Jackman to Buffy. in Shadow of the Vampire, Willem Dafoe plays a vampire playing a vampire, based on the mystery behind the filming of “Nosferatu,” which basically stole its entire story from Dracula but changed the name so they would not have to pay royalties.

One aspect of the vampire myth that is especially alluring is the idea of being un-killable. The life they lead may be perverse and tortured, but it is eternal. Ann Rice, author of Interview with a Vampire and its sequels, has said that it was the death of her child that inspired her to write a series of books about creatures who do not die. Her books have sold over 100 million copies. Certainly, the mixture of death and life that a vampire represents is a part of what draws us to the stories, helping us to explore our fears and desires. In the case of the Twilight series, the vampire adds another dimension. These days, writers of romances complain, it is harder and harder to find reasons for the couple in the story not to get together so quickly there is no time for — a story. The traditional obstacles keeping couples apart, especially cultural norms against having sex with someone you don’t know very well, seem quaint and out of date. But if the guy you like is a vampire and you are not, that’s a darn good reason not to get close any way other than emotionally and psychically. These books explore the deep romanticism of that kind of relationship.

The Canadian series Blood Ties is now showing on Lifetime. It is the story of an investigator specializing in the supernatural and it features “the sexy 450-year-old vampire, Henry” as her adviser and possible love interest. And “Moonlight,” the story of a private investigator turned into a vampire on his wedding night and now interested in a human woman, has been canceled by CBS but may return on another station.

More classic vampires:

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Books Commentary Teenagers Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Fly Away Home

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Amy, a 13-year-old girl from New Zealand (Anna Paquin), wakes up in a hospital bed after an automobile accident to see her father, Tom (Jeff Daniels), whom she barely knows. Her mother was killed in the crash, and she must go back with him to his remote farm in Canada. He is an eccentric sculptor and inventor, preoccupied with his work and unsure of how to try to comfort her. Amy does not want to be comforted, and wanders silently through the marshes. When developers illegally mowing down the marsh kill a goose, Amy finds the eggs she left behind, and begins to resolve her loss by mothering the goslings. Since she is the first thing they see when they hatch, they “imprint” her, and think of her as their mother, following her everywhere, even into the shower. The local authorities insist that their wings be clipped, since without their mother they cannot learn to migrate, and will cause problems for the community when they try to fly. But Amy and her father will not allow the geese to be impaired.

Tom devises a way for Amy to play the role of “Mother Goose” in teaching the geese to migrate, by learning to fly herself, in an ultralight plane, and leading them south. With Tom’s brother (Terry Kinney) and girlfriend (Dana Delany), they plot a course to a wetland preserve that is scheduled to be developed unless geese arrive by November 1. As they work together, Amy finds a way to begin to heal her loss of her mother and her relationship with Tom.

This is a thrilling adventure, exquisitely told, by the same director and photographer who made “The Black Stallion”. Ballard has the patience to let the story tell itself, and the quiet moments are breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreakingly touching. PARENTAL NOTE: There is one profanity in the movie, demanded by the studio, who insisted that the movie must have a PG rating so that it would not scare off school-age kids. Of more concern to many parents will be Amy’s nose ring, inserted with Tom’s approval.

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Action/Adventure Drama Family Issues For all ages

She’s All That

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Get ready. The success of movies like “Scream” has led to an upcoming avalanche of movies transplanting every possible movie plot into high school. This one takes “Pygmalion” with a few touches from “Pretty in Pink,” “Easter Parade,” “Cinderella,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It falls smack dab in the middle of a genre I call “the makeover movie,” in which Our Heroine achieves success through good grooming and accessorizing. The result here is uneven, with some good performances and even some witty commentary on teen culture, but beware — the raunchy references make this inappropriate for younger teens, and even parents of mature high schoolers might want to consider it carefully.

Zach, the most popular and talented boy in high school (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) gets dumped by his beautiful but mean girlfriend the day after spring vacation of their senior year. She has met an MTV-celebrity (Matthew Lillard, hilarious as a self-obsessed gross-out champion based on MTV’s legendary Puck). Zach and his best friend bet that he can take any girl in school and get her elected prom queen before the end of school. The choice is drab Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook), who is coping with her mother’s death by taking care of her father and brother and by worrying about problems throughout the world instead of working through her own feelings of loss.

Laney is one of the least persuasive ugly ducklings in the history of movies. She shucks her glasses and her overalls, and my goodness! She’s beautiful! And my goodness! Zach finds himself actually caring for her. The plot is almost numbingly predictable, but one of the movie’s strengths it that it makes clear that Zach and Laney have both limited themselves by defining themselves before they have really had a chance to find out who they are.

The movie’s other strengths are Prinze, who has a wonderful screen presence and the magnificent Anna Paquin as his younger sister. Cook’s performance is flat by comparison. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe is a caricature as Zach’s former girlfriend.

Parental concerns include strong language, teen drinking, and casual sex (though not by the main characters). Zach’s friend brags that he is going to get Laney to have sex with him in a hotel room he has arranged for the occasion. For some reason, when Laney’s friend overhears this, instead of making the stunningly obvious move of telling Laney what the guy has in mind, he races around trying to get the message to someone else. Parents should know that the movie includes an ugly and graphic scene in which a school bully torments Laney’s hearing-impaired brother by reaching into his pants to grab some pubic hair and putting it on his pizza. Zach then forces the bully and his friend to eat it. Yuck.

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Comedy Family Issues High School Romance
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