Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Blu-ray Review: Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur"

 “This is probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in my life, probably the toughest gig I’ve ever had,” says The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn on the Blu-ray Audio Commentary. “I can’t tell you how my journey on this thing has completely paralleled Arlo and his fears, not having a lot of confidence. I remember jumping into this thing, being terrified of this, trying to make a movie and my confidence levels dropped down like a million, but… like Arlo and the characters that he meets—and the T-rexes and Spot—you guys have been that ‘Spot’ for me, where you have helped me. And I can’t thank you guys enough in terms of giving me that strength and confidence...”

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat, Pete,” says Story Supervisor Kelsey Mann.

Only a handful of DVDs and Blu-rays have such revelatory features as those on The Good Dinosaur. It is no secret that this spectacular yet intimate adventure is the “Jan Brady” to Inside Out’s “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” But as the above quote illustrates, there is an open sincerity inherent, not only in the film itself, but also in the thoughts and feelings the filmmakers share on the various features.
Of course, younger children can just watch the movie, though depending on the sensitivity of the kids; you might accompany them, as there are some impactful moments of danger, violence and extreme peril. Arlo spends a lot of the movie saying this: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

But here’s the unusual angle: this Blu-ray package offers a way to better appreciate and enjoy the film more than would have been possible in a theater, due in no small part to the illuminating bonus features.

If you have not yet seen the film, the following is a rather unusual suggestion. Watch some of the extra features first. Not all mind you, but just the ones that provide a prelude to the film as a production experience, which, while ultimately satisfying, was fraught with challenges. Director Sohn identifies with Arlo, but on a larger scale, the entire film is like the timid dino—there are missteps that keep the story from being completely focused, but there are also moments of unfathomable beauty and emotion.

Here’s a wild idea: before you play the film, watch these generously lengthy extra features first:

1. Always begin with the cartoon. “Sanjay’s Super Team”: an exquisite short in which a little boy’s action hero TV watching is disrupted by his father’s prayer observance—and vice versa—this morphs into a wondrous fantasy steeped in cultural iconography.

2. “The Filmmaker’s Journey” – Sohn and his dedicated and highly supportive creative team don’t mince words about how this project shifted gears and went into overdrive. Presumably there was only so much time to address the most urgent issues and get the project into theaters in the best way possible—the result being a film, though flawed like its protagonist, worthy of the immense pride and love they share for the finished product. (NOTE: There is a spoiler at the end.)

3. Every Part of the Dinosaur – This goes further into the exhaustive efforts to design the characters and create their world. To me, the film plays better on a home screen because, when a film has such a strong design sense, it can overpower the primary characters and their story. On TV, it becomes more cohesive.

4. Following the T-rex Trail – This and “The Filmmaker’s Journey” are the two most important mini-docs. It’s about a remarkable ranch family and their approach to life. For animation fans and students, you can see how getting to know such a family was pure gold for character development. If only we could see more of this family. They’re great.

5. True Lies About Dinosaurs – Aimed at preteens, this is a jaunty look at how the film plays fast and loose with the chronology of history, especially blending species that had never coexisted. It’s a good feature to see because it sets the stage for a film that asks the viewer to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow.

Now it’s time to watch “The Good Dinosaur”! (By the way, does anyone else wish there had been another title, like “The Journey of Arlo” or “Arlo & Spot?”? The chosen title recalls the awkward “Great Mouse Detective” that was changed from “Basil of Baker Street.”)

After the movie and a nice cool beverage, enjoy the following:

6. Deleted Scenes – Of course, these must be seen after the film. I couldn’t help wishing that the sequence between Arlo and his father had been left in. The film was a bit of a downer for at least the first reel and the father-son moments made them more identifiable.

7. Hide and Seek – These interstitials are perplexing, as they seem to come from another film, like Ice Age or Open Season. In this comedy blackouts, the character play directly to the camera and engage in wacky pratfall hijinks, not at all in the spirit of the more lofty visions of the feature itself. Please do not watch these before the movie.

9. Audio Commentary – thank you! Not all Pixar releases include audio commentaries and it is a glaring omission when that happens. In the case of The Good Dinosaur, getting first-hand, genuine anecdotes and observations about the film as it is running is one of the best things about DVDs and Blu-rays. The fact that the commenters are so eager to credit as many members of the team as possible speaks well of them as people.

8. Recyclosaurus – A little slice of life at the studio as the employees participate in a dino building contest, using only things on the “free table”. These folks appear to be having fun.Note: Special Features noted above are only on the blu-ray disc. The only extras on the DVD are the commentary and the short film.

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