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Ink & Pixel: The Good Dinosaur

09.15.2016

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fan-base, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

As an adult, looking back on my schooling career tends to be a bittersweet experience. If I want to put a smile on my face, I think of my lovely second grade teacher, Mrs. McCloud. I can still recall how the smell of lilacs and Crayola crayons trailed behind her as she would walk the rows of our classroom, her platinum blond hair long and swishing at the small of her back. Then, because early academia can often times be a real Lord of the Flies type of situation, I recollect as to how I was picked last for every class sporting event, laughed at for my illnesses, and told that, as a boy, my long hair was a distraction. Here's the score, folks. I've been true to myself for a very long time, and I'm damn proud of that fact.

However, one thing about school that I always looked forward to were the class trips. As a class, we ventured to a couple of cool places: Frost Valley, Washington DC, and even an Arcade Museum! My favorite trip - and one that we took several times - was to the American Museum of Natural History located on the Upper West side of Manhattan, New York City. Back then, I positively loved roaming through the North American Forest and Biodiversity Hall exhibitions. Within those two sections, there was always so much to learn, and visual displays for as far as the eye could see. But my favorite section, by far, was the Fossil Halls - where the bones of ancient dinosaurs are always on display. To this very day, I marvel at the thought that at one time, those humongous beasts ruled the world.

Which brings me to the topic at hand. Today, I’d like to explore the 3D animated adventure, THE GOOD DINOSAUR! Shot by first-time director and native New Yorker, Peter Sohn, this family film with Western roots was produced by Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. Written by Meg LeFauve and based off of an original story idea by Bob Peterson, THE GOOD DINOSAUR takes place in a fictional world some 65 million years ago, where the meteor shower that erased the mighty creatures from our planet never took place. Joining Disney/Pixar for this prehistoric adventure are the voice talents of Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn, Jack Bright, Raymond Ochoa, and A.J. Buckley just to name a few.

In regard to the film’s plot, THE GOOD DINOSAUR tells the story of Arlo - a runt-of-the-litter Apatosaurus - whose life quickly takes a devastating turn after his father is washed away by a deadly natural disaster. Separated from the rest of his family, Arlo must traverse the harsh and alien environment outside of his homeland if he’s to ever feel whole again. Along for the journey is Spot, a young and feral human boy whose instincts will soon prove themselves invaluable in navigating the treacherous terrain filled with all manner of pitfalls and foreign fiends alike. Along the way, the unlikely pair will have to set their differences aside, and learn to trust if they’re to survive the arduous journey.

When making THE GOOD DINOSAUR, Peter Sohn and his team traveled to Jackson, Wyoming in search of an area that would serve to inspire the film. As a man who was raised in the concrete jungles of New York City, it was necessary for Sohn to get out into the open countryside, so that he could gaze upon the majesty of the wilderness where the film would be taking place. Thankfully, despite never having walked a prairie or traversed a mountainside, Sohn grew up watching the Western-themed motion pictures of directors John Ford, George Stevens, and Howard Hawks. With an appreciation for starry night skies and lonesome wanderers already in his blood, Peter quickly became inspired fit as director for the film.

One of the biggest challenges the crew faced when tasked with animating the film’s dinosaur characters, was determining how the beasts would move. Think about it, it’s not like the animators were able to take a research trip to Jurassic Park - and I’m fairly certain that Pixar doesn’t own a time machine. Even with as much information as paleontologists have gathered over the years, determining the stride and weight distribution of these magnificent creatures takes careful consideration to say the least. The question now is: What animals do you study, seeing as real live dinosaurs are out of the question? The answer is that Sohn and his team visited the local zoo, where they took note of the movements and mannerisms of animals such as elephants and giraffes. Between the elephant’s lumbering gait, and the giraffe’s propensity to bob its head atop a long, swaying neck, each served as a fine specimen from which to derive a bit of insight for the creative process.

I’ve decided not to touch on the crafting of the photorealistic vistas of the film for this article, and would instead like to highlight the rich sense of emotion displayed by both Arlo and Spot as they grow together throughout their adventure. Using thousands of nodes, shaders, and sliders, the animation crew of THE GOOD DINOSAUR were able to tell an affecting story within a story, as the character’s posture and facial expressions evolved during the length of the film. Consider for a moment, young Arlo, with his awkward waddle and crooked neck Then, try and recall that same nervous dino at the end of his journey, proudly walking upright and galloping with the grace of a Gallimimus. It’s visual storytelling such as this that makes one consider just how many layers there are to a film such as THE GOOD DINOSAUR.

By the time THE GOOD DINOSAUR's theatrical run had gone extinct, the film had amassed a worldwide total of $332,207,671 in box office receipts! Unlike Pixar's animated and emotional roller coaster INSIDE OUT (released earlier in June of 2015), the trials of Arlo and Spot were met with a mixed reception by both critics and audience members alike. Currently, the film holds a 77% Fresh rating on the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.

As some of you might recall, I drew quite the bit of flack for including THE GOOD DINOSAUR on last year's Ink & Pixel: Special Edition - The Top 5 Animated Films of 2015. Therefore, while sipping on a glass of your tears, I've decided to go ahead and revisit Pixar's prehistoric adventure. Would you care to know what I’d found upon a second viewing of the film? Ah, who are we kidding, of course you would! Well, if I’m being completely honest here … I kind of loved it! Here’s the deal, folks - hindsight and perspective can be a hell of a thing. For real, one of the best aspects about being born with an opinion is that often times you get to change it.

I fully admit that I’d been a bit harsh when sharing my first review of THE GOOD DINOSAUR. While celebrating the film’s visual splendor, I had remarked (though some would use the term “harped”) upon the whininess of Arlo’s character, and the seemingly twisted methodology of Poppa’s “make your mark” system. While I still feel that Poppa could have re-evaluated his potentially emotionally-crippling “gold star” structure, I now understand why it was there. At its heart, this is Pixar’s Western-inspired epic. Knowing that, and accepting it as such, helped me to appreciate the intricacies of Arlo and Spot’s exploits. Truth be told, many of the ingredients you need for a tale of true grit are there: the grizzled Tyrannosaurus cattle rustlers, the simple-minded but cruel posse of Pteranodons, the bizarre harbinger of bad tidings courtesy of Forrest Woodbush the Triceratops. For me, these elements of the film come together in a delightfully emotional package that makes for another classic in the Disney/Pixar library.

Until next time, y’all come back now, ya hear?

Extra Tidbit: Personally, I think it would be pretty sweet if dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Oh sure, I'd never leave my house, but still.

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