January 30th 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Dyson report only partial answer to union problems

CANBERRA OBSERVED No urgency but Turnbull will want to make his mark

NATIONAL AFFAIRS SA pays price of solar and wind generation

FRENCH POLITICS AND ISLAM Kepel scathing of French elites, Salafists and far-right Islamophobes

ENVIRONMENT New bushfire tragedies: when will we ever learn?

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Betrayal: Curia no friend to Russian Catholics

HISTORY OF TAIWAN From pivot of Dutch trade to Japanese outpost

LIFE ISSUES Victoria enacts law based on lies told to Parliament

LIFE ISSUES Euthanasia: a false start to end-of-life issues

ETHICS Book traces foundations of true civilisation

RELIGION AND SOCIETY A welcome in truth for the same-sex attracted

CINEMA The beauty beyond fear: The Good Dinosaur

BOOK REVIEW Secularism mars insights

BOOK REVIEW A novel for the remnant

LETTERS

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CINEMA
The beauty beyond fear: The Good Dinosaur


by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, January 30, 2016

The Good Dinosaur is a beautiful film. It is a simple story, much simpler than the stories Pixar usually tells. Rather than intricate in-jokes and multilayered references, The Good Dinosaur focuses on the story of a boy trying to find his way home, and the things he finds on his way there, including who he is.

Arlo, left, and the “critter”.

But this boy is a dinosaur. In this alternate timeline the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed. With the passing of time the dinosaurs have developed the rudiments of civilisation.

Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and Ida (Frances McDormand) are apatosaurus farmers living on a farm in what will become the American North-West, growing maize and raising giant chickens. They have three children: rambunctious Buck (Marcus Scribner) clever Libby (Maleah Padilla) and the hypersensitive and easily scared Arlo (Raymond Ochoa).

Key to the family’s survival is their corn silo, which holds their supplies for the winter. On it the family members make their mark when they have done something of significance for the family. Buck and Libby make theirs easily, but Arlo has more trouble. Then again, he even has trouble feeding the chickens.

Henry has an idea. A critter’s been making its way into the silo and eating their supplies. Henry makes a trap and has Arlo stand guard, ready to kill the critter when it’s caught.

The critter’s revealed to be a hungry and feral human boy (Jack Bright), whom Arlo is not only too scared to kill, but lets go. Henry is so concerned that he takes Arlo with him into the wild to hunt the human boy down, but a storm approaches and before they make it back, Henry is washed away by the floodwaters.

In the aftermath the family is struggling to harvest enough food for the winter, when Arlo discovers the critter in the silo munching merrily away. Arlo pursues him, blaming him for his father’s death, and falls into the river and is swept far away. Now Arlo must make his way home with only the critter, whom he names Spot, for company.

Along the way he meets a colourful cast of characters, all with their own agendas. There’s the storm-chasing pterodactyls led by Thunderclap (Steve Zahn), who has had a “revelation”; and the crazy styracosaurus (Peter Sohn) who wants the critter to join his army of protecting creatures: “This is Fury, he protects me from the creatures who crawl in the night … This is Dreamcrusher, he protects me from having unrealistic goals.”

Then there’s the T. Rex family of ranchers seeking their herd of “longhorns”, led by Butch (an awesome Sam Elliott) who helps Arlo deal with his fear.

The Good Dinosaur is a story about growing up and dealing with fear. It’s a “boy and his dog” story, drawing on old-school Westerns and classic animations, like The Lion King (1994) and Dumbo (1941). The backgrounds are so well rendered that I wondered at times if they had been animated at all, they looked so beautiful; their beauty was reminiscent of the incredible cinematography that Terrence Malick uses in his rich, if sometimes perplexing, films, such as The Tree of Life (2011).

It is much darker and more violent than other Pixar films, but still child friendly. The villain, the antagonist, is nature itself, something that cannot be controlled, and that must be respected. It is a smaller, simpler story than Pixar usually tells, but still a distinctive one. It has been criticised that it is not in the same class as Toy Story (1995) or WALL-E (2008) or Up (2009), but those are among the greatest films ever made, so that’s no great problem. It’s still a good film. The children in the cinema where I saw it certainly loved it.

More, it has a good message about fear. Arlo has been scared his entire life and wishes he wasn’t, but the film challenges his desire not to be scared. As Butch says, after talking about how he got his scar: “If you ain’t afraid, you ain’t alive.” This ties in with what Henry told Arlo earlier on: “Sometimes you gotta get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.” The point here is that we cannot run from our fear, but we can accept it, and we can work through it.

This runs counter to much motivational and “positive” thinking around today, where the point is to ignore or deny the negative. It is more in keeping with classical and Biblical wisdom that we should accept negative feelings and act in spite of them, that what we do matters more than what we feel, but that that does not mean that we do not feel. More, as Arlo discovers, we should strive to do what is right, for that is how we will make our mark.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).




























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