After the Campaign: The Good Dinosaur

THE GOOD DINOSAUR – SEEING THE LIGHT — An Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend in Disney•Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.” Directed by Peter Sohn, “The Good Dinosaur” opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 25, 2015. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

In my review of the marketing campaign for The Good Dinosaur I wrote:

As with most movies like this, though, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s being played a bit more lightly than the actual movie. So I’m guessing the action and terror in this movie may be a bit more intense and less consistently comical than the trailers would have us believe. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, mind you, since I think it’s good that kids sometimes feel some genuine fear while watching movies, especially when it’s (hopefully) relieved later. But this campaign is selling a wide-eyed, magical adventure and the movie itself might be a bit more genuinely dramatic than this is letting on. We’ll have to see.

And now I have and yes, that’s was very much the case.

The movie is, I’ll admit, really good. Yes, it’s “lesser” Pixar, but I still found it incredibly moving and wonderfully crafted, not to mention gorgeous to look at. The entire time I was watching it I was thinking of comments made during the movie’s publicity cycle about how with such photo-realistic background visuals the filmmakers intentionally made the characters more cartoonish so as to avoid falling too deeply into the Uncanny Valley. But those amazing backgrounds never get in the way or fully pull the focus away from the characters and their stories.

I did find the campaign to be one that hid massive parts of the movie and came close to misselling the story. At the very least it misrepresented what it was selling. With the exception of two or three shots in the trailers, the campaign sells a wonderful, childlike experience that’s filled with awe and exploration. That’s what’s going on in the frequent use of the “tail through the field of lightening bugs” shot that forms the core of the campaign as well as all the shots of Arlo and Spot frolicking through the landscapes.

I won’t say The Good Dinosaur has the most emotionally intense Pixar story moments. That designation goes to Toy Story 3’s inferno sequence. But it does have quite a few moments of genuine danger that are barely hinted at in the campaign. That had to have led to some of the disappointment audiences felt at the box office since for every “hey look at Spot be funny” moment in the trailers there’s a moment where Arlo and Spot are being threatened by other dinosaurs.

There’s a lot of good stuff here and I do like the movie, though I don’t know if it begs for repeat viewing. But I did find there were a lot of points where the finished product diverged pretty significantly from the campaign that sold it.