Film review – The Good Dinosaur (Peter Sohn, 2015)

Pixar’s latest effort The Good Dinosaur is a by-the-numbers buddy comedy set in an alternative history where the asteroid that would have wiped them out has missed Earth completely, meaning dinosaurs and Neanderthal humans live side-by-side. It concerns a timid dinosaur called Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) who is split up from his family has to befriend a dog-like human called Spot to survive and return home.

The Good Dinosaur was destined for problems before it was released. Originally scheduled for a Christmas 2013 release, it has been put back several times, each time causing confusion and issues for the other Disney films on track for their respective releases. According to Denise Ream, one of the film’s producers, the primary reason for the rescheduling was “the story was not working, period, full stop, it just was not where it needed to be.” The director Bob Peterson, who previously found success with Up, was removed and replaced with Peter Sohn, allegedly because he was too involved with the film.

The upshot of it all is that it has found itself living in the shadow of the excellent Inside Out, which has barely left the cinemas, and is competing for shelf space in the various toy stores across the land with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is set for release less than a month after The Good Dinosaur. It was also released in the middle of a school term, drastically reducing the opportunity to go and see it for anyone with children in school. So does that make the target audience parents who aren’t working and have children old enough to go to the cinema but under the age of 4? I guess so… [1]

The film itself feels like an unfinished product. It is the first time I’ve watched a Pixar film and genuinely felt like they’d given up on it. It feels like a last-gasp chance to recoup on a project that will, at best, break even.

The character design is uninspired. None of the dinosaurs offer any of the individuality or appeal audiences have come to expect from a Pixar or Disney film. The beautiful environment goes some way to make up for this, but only Spot himself felt like a fully realised character.

If the reports are to be believed, then the problems with the film lied in the final third. This is, then, presumably where the cavalry came in to take over and save the day. Sadly for Peterson, this is exactly where the film picked up a bit and paid off on some of its promise.

Two scenes stuck out as being particular highlights. The first was a beautiful montage scene where Arlo and Spot ran through an open plane full of birds was vintage Pixar. The second was an emotional scene in which Spot is effectively adopted by another Neanderthal family at the encouragement of Arlo.

Perhaps both of these were Peterson’s work. Will we ever know?

As a 31-year-old man, I know I’m not the target audience for this film. I do have an appreciation for all good animation though and this falls a long way short. The best critics are the children. Four days after its release, the cinema was about 10% full. The children present seemed restless and disinterested. A few parties left. Maybe they went home to watch something more enjoyable. Or, you know, fun.

The Good Dinosaur is currently on release at UK cinemas.

[1] In my local cinemas only one screening was achievable for workers and people at school, which was a 6:30 screening at a Cineworld. I don’t know how many people were at earlier screenings.

Sanjay’s Super Team (Sanjay Patel, 2015)

If you were keen enough to get to the cinema early enough before The Good Dinosaur, one of the worst Pixar feature films thus far, you’ll have been treated to Sanjay’s Super Team, one of the worst Pixar short films thus far.

Sanjay realises just how bad The Good Dinosaur is.

The story, based on the true memories of director Sanjay Patel, revolves around him as a young child and the conflict between him wanting to enjoy a superhero TV show and his father wanting him to join him in prayer. Frustrated when his father turns the TV off and forces him to pray, Sanjay uses his time of reflection to daydream into a strange world where his Hindu gods are more like superheroes.

The cel-shading technique used in the daydream sequences is a bit of a let down and feels like a quick solution, despite the best efforts to make it look as colourful as possible. I couldn’t help but imagine how good it would have looked with more attention to detail.

This is a film about a child having doubts over his beliefs and a clash of cultures. Whilst many won’t understand the precise religious and cultural aspects at play, most will appreciate the story from the position of a child not wishing to have to follow in the footsteps of the parents. In principal I don’t agree with using religion as a basis of children’s entertainment, but it works well in this case to create a story for the older audience members.

Unfortunately, the overall result is a bit bland. There was no dialogue, the brilliantly coloured dream sequence lacked any real wow factors and it didn’t move fast enough to make use of the lengthy running time for a short film. The children in the audience voted with their restlessness and disinterest. 

In this sense, it was the perfect warm up for the main feature.

Riley’s First Date? (Josh Cooley, 2015)

If you loved the Pixar animated feature film Inside Out then chances are you’ll… like “Riley’s First Date?”, the short included as a bonus feature on the various Blu-ray versions of the release.

It centres around a mysterious boy showing up at Riley’s household to take Riley out, with most of the jokes coming from the parents’ reactions to interacting with him. If you’ve seen Inside Out itself, it is essentially an extension of the final sequences of the film, popping in and out of the characters’ heads in rapid succession for quick laughs.

It lacks any of the emotional pull that made the film a huge success over the summer, but it does succeed in getting a few jokes that make it worth a watch. It can’t go down as a reason to purchase the Blu-ray – you don’t need any more reasons than the fact it’s the best Pixar films released for years.

Film review – Lava (James Ford Murphy, 2014)

The opening short film you will see before Inside Out later this summer is a sweet film called Lava, probably the first musical love story to take place over millions of years. It involves two volcanoes and is set to a beautiful song sung by Kuana Torres Kahele.

This volcano is in lava.

This volcano is in lava.

It was met with audible gasps, sighs and whoops in the screening I saw at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. Please make sure you get there in time to see this volcano’s story!

Film review – Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015)

The latest film from Pixar Animation Studios is one I approached with considerable anticipation. There has been a reluctant feeling amongst close followers of Pixar’s output that they are now running low on original ideas as we are seeing a shift towards sequels rather than original storylines. Of the first ten Pixar motion pictures, only Toy Story 2 was a sequel. Of the following four films, only the poorly received (but excellent) Brave was an original concept. Monsters University was an enjoyable film but not a patch on the original; Cars 2 was on a par with the first installment but that just means neither are good. Only the two Toy Story sequels were both a critical and commercial success and the first of these started life as a direct-to-video sequel.

So when the next few films were announced and they included Toy Story 4 and Finding Dory a lot of questions focused on how many original ideas were left in the tank. It’s cruel to be concerned in many ways, but after such a frantic amount of original ideas pumped so much life into the animation industry it was sad to think it might be slowing down.

However, seeing they were releasing two new franchises was a cause for hope. The Good Dinosaur will be seen in cinemas later this year, but first up is the film set to be a summer blockbuster – Inside Out.

L-R: Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness

L-R: Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness

The story is an unusual but simple one, much like all the best Pixar films. It is set inside the brain of a young girl named Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias) as she is forced to move house with her parents from icy Minnesota to the slightly milder San Francisco, leaving behind her friends, beautiful house and successful ice hockey team. Her five emotions are represented by five distinctly hilarious characters: Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Each one controls her emotional response based on how they interpret what she is experiencing, and these are converted into memories in the form of tiny glass orbs, rich in one or more type of emotion, which are stored in her mind for her to recall later.

This concept is highly original and is a brilliant platform for some hilarious cutaway scenes where we see what Riley is seeing and the reaction shots of what to do with our five emotional manifestations. The most memorable case of this was a very typical family meal, into which a lot of careful consideration was evidently given to get the perfect balance between heartfelt and humour.

I won’t ruin any specifics of the plot but I would recommend taking a tissue if you are liable to cry. They reach first-eight-minutes-of-Up levels of emotions.

The real-life characters are highly realistic and the world in which they live is very believable. However, the one place the film lets itself down is with the character design of the five emotions. Whilst they are cutely colourful and well animated, the actual design doesn’t seem up to the standard expected from Pixar and I wonder how it got this far down the line without someone saying it needs to be improved. A couple of other characters – Richard Kind’s Bing Bong and a particularly scary clown – inhabit a wholly different world and have more in common stylistically with Aardman Animation. I can’t help think they were designed with merchandising in mind.

This is truly up there with the best Pixar films, no easy achievement given they have been responsible for so many of the best animated films over the last twenty years. It’s the perfect emotional rollercoaster to ride on whilst celebrating reaching the start of their third decade in the motion picture business.

Inside-Out was previewed at Glastonbury Festival on Sunday 28th June and is set for release in late July in the UK. It is preceded by the short film Lava.

Glastonbury Day Five: The Who, Paul Weller, The Shires, body pain, inevitably poor personal hygiene 

Well, there we have it. Another year of good-hearted, fun-loving live music done and dusted as Glastonbury 2015 comes to a close. All the flaws my body has developed over its first thirty years have come to the surface and I am out of both alcohol and money. It has been emotional.

The highlight set for my party on the Sunday was a crowd-pleasing effort from Paul Weller. With a career spanning 40 years he had plenty to go on and the song selection was spot on, allowing him to promote his new material a little whilst reminding everyone just how good he is. My favourite track was “Above The Clouds”, though “Peacock Suit” was a close second. His voice didn’t even have a hint of cracking at any point, which bodes well for a long future of touring yet. It was also nice to see Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock on stage with Mr Weller again. Well done sirs. It was a stunning set.


The Who were the first headline act we saw on the main stage. Hit after hit arrived on the sound-system as a genuine rock giant showed the Glastonbury crowd what a real gig was like. Kanye take note – you can get cocky once you’ve had some quality output. Two hours of rocking inevitably ended with a bit of set destruction, but we wouldn’t have expected anything less.

Apparently they were having sound issues but I didn’t really notice; far worse was Lionel Richie earlier in the day who sounded like the bass drum was being played by someone keeping time to a different tune. Wholly off putting and a genuine set ruined for everyone I could hear complaining vocally in the crowd.

The Shires were an odd but fruitful choice. I was pushing to see them, against the will of at least one of my party. Everyone was pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous country tunes and beautiful vocals they are blessed with. They aren’t a groundbreaking act and I think everyone there knows that, but what they do have are some excellent songs to sing along to and an inspiring attitude that got the whole audience on side immediately. “State Lines” is still in my head now.

Elsewhere Eric Bibb and The Bootleg Beatles were juxtaposed on the Acoustic Stage but were equally brilliant; Patti Smith seemed like she was struggling to engage with the crowd, although the Dalai Lama saved the day with some thought-provoking messages; and the night was rounded off by a secret DJ set from 2manydjs at Arcadia, because we love having our faces burned off by a giant spider [1]. We even managed to take in an under-advertised sneak preview of the new Pixar film Inside Out (more on that at a later date).

The countdown has now begun to the return home and have a proper shower and a comfy. Believe me, it is much-needed.

Thank you Mr Eavis for inviting us all to the best party of the summer. Sorry we wrecked everything. We promise we’ll be tidier next time.

[1] To be honest, we felt so claustrophobic that we went back to our campsite and listened from there. You know, like all the cool kids.