“Captain Marvel” came out last weekend. I have some thoughts…
“Captain Marvel” came out last weekend. I have some thoughts…
It would be unfair to simply write off Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” as “The Lion King” with sauropods but, by the third or fourth scene that are direct recalls from Simba’s adventures, you realize that once you’ve seen one story about an anthropomorphized young male quadruped on a journey of discovery and growth, you’ve kinda seen them all. Where “The Good Dinosaur” fails to live up to “The Lion King” is the generally smaller scale of the story, perhaps made to appear even smaller from being told against such huge, sweeping, and grand backdrops.
Simba’s tale was epic and nearly Shakespearean in scale while Arlo’s is much more personal. Rather than return from the apparent grave to fight his deceitful uncle in a battle to reclaim his rightful place on Pride Rock, Arlo just needs to return. To his corn farm. So he can make a muddy footprint on a wall. It’s not without wit, to be sure, and the vistas are some of the most beautiful CG landscapes ever seen on screen (the water effects, in particular, are remarkable — especially when compared to the pathetic splashes seen in “The Incredibles”). There was a moist eye here and there in the theater by the end, but “The Good Dinosaur” fails to spark any real threat for these seemingly indestructible dinos. Even when they fight the way dinosaurs really did (with their gnashing teeth and ripping claws), there’s a notable lack of wounding or blood (but not scars go figure). So much for the Circle of Life, I guess.
This is the first Pixar movie in which the main protagonists are children and the adult characters play minor or supporting roles. They exist only to threaten or teach or protect or look worried when it comes to Arlo and his pet human, Spot. They don’t have real stories of their own. The villains, in particular, while starting out as creepy psychopaths end up being flat and rather easily dealt with.
“The Good Dinosaur” is not a bad movie (not like “Cars 2”—ugh). It’s biggest issue is it’s a Pixar movie so the stakes are that much higher. My family watched “Inside Out” the day after seeing “The Good Dinosaur” and that only made it look more tepid in comparison. In all the ways “Inside Out” was original and clever and funny, “The Good Dinosaur” was ultimately flat and derivative and predictable. But with stunningly beautiful scenery.
Originally published on Medium.
“The Martian” is unlike any movie I can recall seeing in recent memory. There are no bad guys. Everybody (in the world) is trying to do the same thing together. It’s a celebration of only the best things about us: scientific achievement, human ingenuity, dogged determination, and teamwork on a massive scale all in the service of a single, noble goal. While there is zero pessimism in this film, it never gets maudlin or sentimental. Nor does it seem to follow any of the rules found in The Big Book of How Hollywood Movies Are Made™. It also has to be the most magnificent piece of propaganda ever produced in the service of NASA and science in general.
If it’s ever said when this story takes place, I didn’t hear it. The iPhones all look like ours and the clothing styles are about the same, but as the movie begins we find ourselves at the beginning of the third of five manned missions to Mars using spacecraft and other tech that feels like it’s about 20 years in the future and had to have cost trillions to build and launch and assemble on another world. The implication of this is “The Martian’s” most unbelievable premise. That the divided and gloomy United States in which we live would find a way to get behind such an endeavor and allow it to happen. Even though it feels ever so slightly futuristic, it doesn’t feel like any magical technological leaps have been assumed by the storytellers. There’s no warp drive or phasers or sentient computers. Just an extrapolation of things already possible and even familiar applied on a massive scale.
What I loved most about this movie is that it’s basically a two-and-a-half hour showcase for cleverness. It’s like a glass of icy cold water in the desert of denial and outright hostility to science we’ve been crawling through in recent years. It’s a celebration of figuring shit out and not letting hard problems win and having faith in the things we know and can do. It’s about a world reaching for great discoveries for the sake of the discovery. And it’s about the simultaneous fragility and power of a little flicker of life where it doesn’t belong.
I left “The Martian” feeling something recent news and those who make it and even those who tell it have taken from me: optimism. Even inspiration. It’s a reminder of all the great things we’ve accomplished and how close we are to doing even greater things. I hope everyone sees it, especially young people. This is the future I want to live in.
With “The Incredibles,” Brad Bird advocated the notion that when all people are considered special, no one is. When those with certain abilities and gifts are not allowed to use them, everyone suffers. That’s the super-condensed version, of course. “Tomorrowland” has, at its core, the same message. The special ones, if given a chance, can make a great big beautiful tomorrow. Except this time, they need to allow themselves to do so.
When did we stop thinking about tomorrow with optimism and excitement? When did we become obsessed with an inevitable decline and start expending so much energy looking for signs of it everywhere? When did we start to act as though a lesser tomorrow was inevitable? When did we lose our confidence that we can always be better than we have been? And why do we find those who reject those notions of doom to be hopelessly naive? In Bird’s “Tomorrowland,” there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. In the real world, though, it’s so much more complicated.
If I were to make a stab at it, I’d say Bird wants viewers of his new film to do two things. One, snap out of it. Remember when we saw great things ahead and start moving forward again. Two, just like “The Incredibles,” we need to let our special ones be special. Stop being so cynical and allow those with gifts and abilities do what they do best and build the future. Or, in the case of where we sometimes appear to be heading recently, save it.
“Tomorrowland” is about optimism. It’s about rejecting fear and the notion of inevitable decline. It’s about embracing the potential of human imagination and running with it. In many ways, it channels Walt Disney himself. It’s not a perfect movie, but I think it is a good movie.
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