Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Good-er Dinosaur

Well then, just when one over-hyped dinosaur film comes out, another one takes its place. Seriously, 2015 is looking like the year of the dinosaur. Not just that, but it also happens to be the second Pixar film this year, a first for the studio. Guess people like me who appreciate dinosaurs and good animation just got super lucky.

While I personally was not a big fan of Jurassic World for a number of reasons (not just the inaccuracies, mind you), I've been keeping an eye on this film for quite a while. I still remember first hearing about it back in 2011, and listening in on-and-off about how production was doing and who and what was attached. The promotional artwork certainly looked promising, and the concept for the film was rather interesting. Tied to it all was also the fact that Greg Dykstra is involved, the sculptor for a number of Pixar and other animation projects ranging from Finding Nemo to The Nightmare Before Christmas. He also happens to be a big dinosaur-nerd, and has been out on digs in South Dakota while much of the production of The Good Dinosaur was getting started. Now that some trailers of the film have finally appeared, I think it's definitely a better time than any to start talking about it.

Some early concept art of the film. Arlo, the Apatosaurus lead character, seems to have gone from a full-sized sauropod to a juvenile during production. Spot doesn't seem to have changed much at all.
The movie is based on the concept of a major "what if" question. "What if" the asteroid impact that occurred 66 million years ago, missed? And thus, the K-T extinction event didn't occur? Dinosaurs would still be wandering the Earth, and much of our fauna would probably be much more like the Mesozoic. The plot centers around Arlo, a juvenile Apatosaurus who's part of a small herd that lives in the "Clawed-Tooth Mountains". One day, a tragic event occurs which kills Arlo's father and causes the young sauropod to fall into a river, where he is hit by a rock and knocked unconscious. Upon awakening, he finds himself far away from home and needs to find a way to make it back. While searching, he stumbles upon a young human boy, who like him, also seems to be all alone, if not lost himself. Arlo names the human Spot, and the two set off on a journey back to the Mountains, encountering a wide range of landscapes and colorful characters along the way.

Many people into speculative biology and evolution already know many examples of the main premise of this in fiction already. The idea of dinosaurs never going extinct has been used by Dougal Dixon's The New Dinosaurs, the Speculative Dinosaur Project, and as a host of other independent projects online. This is a Pixar-ized version, however, and while there appears to be a form of worldbuilding and perhaps a few speculative creatures (the heck is that red snake-lizard thing?!), this is mostly fantasy. It also strangely seems to be an homage to many old-school dinosaur films, with the opening from the two trailers obviously being an homage to the Rite of Spring segment in Disney's Fantasia. The film also seems to take a twist on those old cartoons where there's a caveman and his pet Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus: the symbiosis is present, but reversed, with Arlo apparently treating Spot like a pet.

Who doesn't like to flaunt their animation budget every now and then?

I'll be holding most of my judgement for when the film actually enters theaters, but from the looks of the trailers, it is gorgeous. Holy crap, when the first teaser trailer came out I was debating with myself whether or not the animals were placed over a real backdrop, but nope, everything is CGI. Greg Dykstra and the rest of the animation department have my permission to pat themselves on the back and throw a party. This is some of, if not THE best animation I think I've ever seen from a Pixar film, and this is just from the first trailer. Everyone remember when the first Jurassic World trailer came out and how bad everyone thought the CGI was? If this is how the movie looks now, at only the first trailer, the final product is gonna be brilliant.

I won't talk about inaccuracies, as a) the dinosaurs are meant to be anthropomorphized, cartoony, and human-like, and b) we've yet to see most of the characters from the film from what I've heard, but I'll go over a few things I noticed from the trailer that caught my interest...
  • The Opening - The opening scene where the asteroid whizzes overhead is obviously using pre-dinosaur renaissance dinosaurs in it. Although, as said before, this seems to be a reference to Fantasia if anything, so I'm willing to let it slide.
  • Arlo's Legs - Other than the typical "sauropods didn't have elephant-feet" point, why does he have backwards "elbows"? Granted, they could be elongate "hands" and the upper arm could be embedded in the body, but it's still weird and makes his legs more horse-like than anything. And it doesn't help that he gallops...
  • Galloping - Can sauropods even gallop? I don't think they can...
  • Old Cross-Eye - The heck is that ceratopsian supposed to be? Looks like an asymmetrical Styracosaurus with extra spikes and Triceratops brow horns. Guess it could be a new species that evolved in the past 66 million years, but then why is Arlo's species still Apatosaurus after an even longer period of time?
  • The Riders - If you look close at the cross-eyed ceratopsian's head, you'll see there's a large number of small animals sitting on it, ranging from monkey-like things, to armadillo-like things, to some owls, an anole, and quite a few birds. Two of these birds are rather odd, and look almost like Rahonavis or some small dromaeosaurid. It's hard to tell if they actually are, but it might suggest we're getting properly feathered maniraptorans in this film.
  • Red Snake-Lizard - I said it before and I'll say it again. The heck is that thing?
  • Bat-Crap Crazy Pterosaurs - Why do pterosaurs always have to be eagle-swooping bringers of death? Not even in Pixar can they be cute adorable things that sing. I want a cute trio of fluffy Darwinopterus to sing to our heroes, not toothed Pteranodon (faceplam) to swoop down and pick up humans with opposable feet that they don't have!
Anyways, despite some of the issues, I'm still hyped and can't wait. I adored Inside Out, and I'm looking to see what Pixar brings to the table next. This will probably not be the last time I bring up this movie, so stay tuned for more. Cheers!

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