Yabba-dabba-do time? Not quite
THE GOOD DINOSAUR Directed by Peter Sohn. Starring Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A. J. Buckley, Steve Zahn, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Marcus Scribner, Maleah Padilla. Cert PG, gen release, 101mins The premise – What if dinosaurs were dirt-farmers? – doesn’t have quite the appealing ring as Toy Story’s what if toys were alive? Or Inside Out’s what if feelings had feelings? But the overture, in which an asteroid fails to impact at Chicxulub, Mexico, some 65 million years ago, promises real good, possibly yabba-dabba-do time.
Not quite. Instead, a story credited to five authors and an additional screenwriter congeals into an overlong weepie family drama stapled together from bits of other weepie family dramas: the parental loss of Bambi, the final farewell of The Jungle Book and the incredible journey of, well, Incredible Journey. It is, additionally, a western, replete with T-rex ranchers and murderous, marauding Pterodactylus.
There’s quite enough going on but just to add to the structural flaws: Arlo, the film’s young hero, is a likeable creation but he needs far fewer lines; he repeatedly explains Obviously, we celebrate the fact that, for the first time in aeons, Johnny Depp isn’t essaying a variation of Widow Twankey. He has certainly slapped on the make-up to play James “Whitey” Bulger, Irish-American crime boss of Boston, but at no point is he seen balancing on a barrel while impersonating Tommy Cooper. Barely recognisable in bad leather jacket, grey teeth, bleached contacts and receding hair, Depp delivers a very convincing Southie psychopath. (Why are Irish gangsters always so filthy in the movies?)
Unfortunately, the script his own actions where wordless visuals and comedy might suffice. And then there’s internal logic issues: why do they plough with their heads in the soil instead of using their tails? How are the dinosaurs tying knots without opposable thumbs?
To be fair, the film is less of a gumbo than it might be. The central buddy pairing between Arlo the Apatosaurus and Spot the cave-boy makes for cutes allows little shade to the character. He has one good scene where he congratulates his little son on being reprimanded for walloping a school chum. But, for the most part, Whitey is in the same state of closed-in derangement.
Let’s be frank. What we have here is the best fake Martin Scorsese film of the year (always an overcrowded genre). Indeed, William Monahan drew on the Bulger story when adapting Infernal Affairs into The Departed. Joel Edgerton is strong as John Connolly, the FBI man who concocted a dubious conspira-
Those big eyes are going to sell a lot of lunch boxes
and feels; the landscapes are flawless and younger amateur palaeontologists will be pleased by the inclusion of such lesser-spotted beasts as the Styracosaurus (who gets the best lines in the picture).
The Good Dinosaur is a much better film than Cars but the newer movie’s propensity for sentimentality and Americana does indeed recall the earlier, unlovely Pixar adventure.
In common with John Lasseter’s 2006 franchisestarter, the marriage of highly cartoonish characters on highly realistic backgrounds is not always a happy one.
Ultimately, that won’t matter to the bottom line: dinosaurs, like motor vehicles, will always shift lunch boxes and duvet covers. cy with Bulger’s mob: if the Irish hoodlums deliver the Mafia they will be allowed to kill and rob with relative impunity. It soon transpires that Bulger is buying this indulgence with chickenfeed and lies.
One can sense Scott Cooper’s film straining not to be a Scorsese film but almost everything else is in place: the shots to the back of the head; the angrily excluded women; the dubious glamour of organised violence. There are worse things than an energetic cover version. CHRISTMAS WITH THE COOPERS Directed by Jessie Nelson. Starring Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Jake Lacy, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Steve Martin. Cert 12A, gen release, 106mins Decades ago, when Halloween meant apple bobbing and a raisin-based dessert, a Hollywood Christmas was a sight to behold: a bonanza of seasonally themed jumpers and perfectly dimensioned gift boxes all tied up with impossibly beautiful ribbons. Nowadays the rest of the world enjoys the same jumpers and gift boxes, and the Hollywood Christmas has lost much of its lustre.
But director Jessie Nelson just won’t stand for it. Christmas with the Coopers pulls out all the stops with an unending blitzkrieg of Christmasiness: there will be carolling, holiday-card perfect tobogganing, gingerbread houses, gingerbread persons, and – for all we know – 11 lords a’ leaping.
The lavishness doesn’t end with the diabetic-coma inducing treats: here comes the starriest of ensemble casts. Steve Martin’s narration – a mash-up of The Wonder Years and ’Twas the Night Before Christmas – rounds up a dingdong of subplots. The meetcute romance between Republican-voting GI Joe (Obvious Child’s Jake Lacy) and emotionally muddled artist Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) is just what we wanted; the incomprehensible friendship between elderly patriarch Bucky (Alan Arkin) and damaged waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) however is like receiving socks – in the wrong size.
Some narrative strands half work: Anthony Mackie’s uptight arresting officer is interesting company, but even the reliable Marisa Tomei can’t do anything with the thankless spinster character who finds herself in the back of Mackie’s police car.
It’s a terrible waste of talent. Bah, humbug.
Yawn: Keaton and Goodman