It’s been about ten months since the last Pixar by Numbers post, but there have been two more entries since then and I wanted to add them into the list. So, welcome back! Let’s see how the new films stack up.
First up, we have…
The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Overview: In a version of Earth where the Dinosaurs never went extinct, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an Apatosaurus, lives with his family on a farm where they grow corn. When a critter (a human) gets into their food stores, he is tasked with dispatching the vermin, but squeamish Arlo can’t go through with it, so his father (Jeffrey Wright) decides to teach him a lesson about facing his fears, but then a storm hits, separating Arlo from his family, and he has to make the trip home accompanied by the “vermin” he was supposed to get rid of.
The animation of the backgrounds is spectacular, and the music is sweeping and pretty, but that’s about all this one has going for it.
The Concept: (8/10)
I legitimately love the idea, but it’s just not handled very well. This is probably the first Pixar “world” that feels incomplete or haphazard. It’s hard to describe, but it may just be that it’s a frontier setting so it’s mostly just open wilderness with occasional dinosaurs here and there. We don’t get any sense of how the world really works. Instead of hunting, dinosaurs just grow crops or wrangle herds, which is basically just a more complex version of what would happen anyway. I kind of wanted to know more about how this world evolved.
The Characters: (6/10)
Arlo is a decent lead character in that he’s very flawed and, because he’s always been the teeniest, is a bit spoiled. I liked how he learns how to get himself out of trouble and stand up for himself. It’s not necessarily the most original character arc, but it is something kids can relate to. Spot is adorable, of course, but the rest of the characters are just there either for laughs or life lessons (and there are more of the former than the latter).
The Story: (5/10)
I hate to say it, but the story is completely bland. We’ve seen the whole “character gets separated from their family and has to find their way home” many times before, and the “dinosaur gets separated from the family” plot is even less original because we’ve seen it before as well (*cough*LandBeforeTime*cough*). The whole thing feels so contrived because everything is an important life lesson for Arlo and so we lose the random colorfulness of the world like we had in Finding Nemo. Both films are episodic, but Nemo feels organic while Dinosaur feels like an educational lesson. The shocking lack of originality in this story is troublesome because it seems Pixar is getting stuck in their own formula and needs something groundbreaking to pave the way into new territory.
The Humor: (5/10)
The didactic nature of the story renders the whole thing pretty humorless. There are a few gags with Spot being dog-like, and one especially funny pet-collecting Styracosaurus, but other than that, the whole thing is pretty unremarkable. It takes itself so seriously that it misses a lot of opportunities to be entertaining. This makes the feel of the whole thing come across as very uneven.
The Heart: (6/10)
I can tell that this was supposed to be in the vein of Up in that it’s more serious and depressing, but it comes across as flat and manipulative. There are a couple tear-jerker moments, but they have to try so hard to elicit a reaction because we don’t really care all that much about the characters. The main character is just sort of thrown away at the end of the film, and the audience is just kind of left sitting there going…”well, alright…”
I was really excited for this one, but it just feels really rushed and startlingly sub-par for a Pixar film.
Overall Score: 30 = 60/100
And then we go to…
Finding Dory (2016)
Overview: It’s been a year since Marlin (Albert Brooks) found Nemo (now Hayden Rolence) and life is lovely on the reef, but Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) begins to slowly remember fragments of her childhood memories and realizes that her parents are out there in the ocean somewhere and she has to find them. Her quest takes her to a marine biology institute in California and a whole new host of wacky characters as she tries to find her parents despite her inability to remember anything for the past few seconds.
The Concept: 8/10
Quest stories are Pixar’s bread and butter, so it’s not necessarily super original, but the fact that so much of the film takes place outside of the ocean is really interesting. It’s not necessarily as colorful as the ocean environments of Finding Nemo, but it never fails to be entertaining.
The Characters: 9/10
Marlin and Nemo become side characters and, at times, Marlin is the closest thing this film has to a villain, which sort of negates his previous growth. But Dory is wonderful. Instead of rehashing familiar gags about her memory, this film gets at her core and embraces the tragedy and joy inherent to the character, which I loved. As for the new characters, I loved them all. Hank the antisocial octopus (Ed O’Neill) is probably my favorite, but Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey (Ty Burrel) are also a hilarious duo. The characters all stand out beautifully, which makes this a film that can definitely be watched repeatedly without it growing stale.
The Story: 8/10
It won’t win any awards for originality (since most Pixar films revolve around so-and-so getting separated from their family/friends and having to find their way back), but it’s still full of enough twists and turns that it doesn’t feel completely unoriginal. I saw a great many plot elements from the Toy Story films that were recycled, especially Toy Story 2, but the characters were so interesting that I didn’t care as much. The story is sort of a psychological thriller/caper story and having Dory’s unreliable memory at the center of it gave it enough original flair that the well-tread plot was sufficiently disguised.
The Humor: 10/10
I laughed out loud throughout the film. The big climax of the film is so hysterical that the theater was in stitches throughout the whole thing. The rest of the humor rests on the characters being just as neurotic and weird as we are, but Dory’s memory loss is thankfully not the butt of too many jokes as we get to see what it’s like for her to live with this condition.
The Heart: 9/10
OK, full confession time: I cried. Maybe not as much as I did with Inside Out, but the scenes with Baby Dory (who is so cute, you just want to cry because you can’t imagine a fish being so cute) are heartbreaking. She knows she has a problem remembering and she can recognize that it’s the source of a lot of anxiety on her parents’ parts, but she doesn’t know how to stop it from happening. Dory’s arc is so good and so emotionally satisfying that you can’t imagine her just being the goofy sidekick in the last movie. There is one emotionally manipulative moment that is sort of designed to produce tears, but you don’t really care because you love the characters so much.
Overall Score: 44 = 88/100
Ok, so let’s see how these stand up to the rest of the Pixar canon
1. Finding Nemo (96)
2. Wall-E (94)
3. Monsters Inc. (94)
4. Inside Out (92)
5. The Incredibles (92)
6. Toy Story 2 (88)
7. Toy Story 3 (88)
8. Up (88)
9. Finding Dory (88) (Surrounded by Toy Story and Up. Not bad!)
10.Toy Story (86)
11. Ratatouille (86)
12. Monsters University (80)
13. Cars 2 (72)
14. Cars (68)
15. A Bug’s Life (64)
16. Brave (64)
17. The Good Dinosaur (60)
I’ll see you on Monday with my review of Independence Day: Resurgence!