Movie Review: The Good Dinosaur (2015)

Title: The Good Dinosaur
Release Date: November 25, 2015
Director: Peter Sohn
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

In 2015, I had dinosaur-loving children aged 8 and 4 and somehow this movie still flew under the radar.  It’s a Pixar movie that came and went with little fanfare, and although I’d hope to discover a diamond in the rough, I can understand why it left no mark.  The concept is good as it tells a story of an alternate universe where dinosaurs do not go extinct and evolve to use language and perform tasks like agriculture.  Also, the animation is absolutely gorgeous, although it seems odd to have cartoonish animals in such a realistic setting.

The story focuses on Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), a small and clumsy Apatosaurus who is unable to keep up with his parents and siblings in making a positive contribution to their farm. His father, Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright), is killed in a flash flood while pursuing a “critter” who is eating from their corn silo.  Later, Arlo tries to catch the same critter (who is a small human boy) and they are both washed downstream.  Arlo and the boy – who behaves in a dog-like manner and is named Spot (Jack Bright) – must form a partnership to find their way back up the river to get home.

The buddy-road-story meets child-finding-his-place-in-the-world-story feels overly familiar.  Obviously, Pixar can use familiar tropes to make something new, but they fail to do so here. Instead they’re overly reliant on swelling music and big speeches to create emotion that feels unearned.  The movie does get better as it goes along and I enjoyed some gags such as a paranoid Styracosaurus with a menagerie of animals in its horns or a surreal scene when Arlo and Spot eat fruit that’s gone rotten.  Overall though, it’s disappointing that a movie this basic has Pixar’s name on it especially since it has potential to be something better.

I would say that overall the simple and gentle story might be good to watch with younger children with the caveat that there are some terrifying scenes with pterodactyls hunting down animals.

Rating: **

Classic Movie Review:Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Title: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Release Date: December 12, 1967
Director: Stanley Kramer
Production Company: Columbia Pictures

1967 was a huge year for Sidney Poitier with To Sir, With Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner making him the top grossing leading man of the year. Whether Hollywood needed a Black man teaching rebellious students in London’s East End, a Black man solving crimes in a racist Southern town, or a Black man meeting his white betrothed’s liberal parents for the first time, Sidney Poitier was your man.  The latter two films also did well at the Academy Awards, although Poitier was criminally not nominated for Best Actor for any of them.

Reviewing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 2020 comes down to two questions: is it a good movie and was it a good movie for its time?  The latter question is easy to answer in the affirmative. It’s often noted that something like a Hollywood film can move the needle on a social issue by using a light touch. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner follows that prescription to a T with a cast of likable and good-looking actors coming together and having some disagreements, but nothing that can’t be worked out before dinner.  I think all the actors perform well in this movie even if sometimes I can’t believe the words coming out of their mouths. As an aside, I love that Katharine Houghton has a mid-Atlantic accent just like her fictional mother and real-life aunt Katharine Hepburn. I also like Cecil Kellaway as the random Irish priest who gets tipsy and says things without a filter.

But is the movie good?  It’s definitely entertaining, but veers towards the schmaltzy (my goodness, the music!).  The fact that John and Joanna are getting married after only knowing one another for ten days seems to me more a cause for concern about the future of their marriage than their mixed race. I’m really curious why it was written to have them rushing into marriage instead of having known one another for some time, since every other effort was made to make them “perfect.”  I also think it was kind of dickish for John to make an ultimatum to Drayton’s without even talking to Joanna about it.  But the thing that bother’s me most is the inadvertent casual racism in things such as Matt (Spencer Tracy) being able to make the warm, fuzzy reconciliation speech while throwing Mr. Prentice (Roy E. Glenn, Sr.) under the bus.

Ultimately, this is a movie that is best watched as a reflection of its times while enjoying the performances of a talented group of actors.

Rating: ***