You hear about that Pixar movie? The one where the weak protagonist is separated from the safety of their home forcing them to go out on their own and grow as they overcome challenges.”
“No. The one with the missing father figure.”
“No. The one with the odd couple protagonists.”
“No. The latest one that didn’t do so well at the box office.“
“Ah. The Good Dinosaur.”
“Yeah. That one.”
A sad hypothetical conversation that isn’t without its accuracies. The Good Dinosaur is Pixar’s latest installment and the story just feels tired and worn out. Arlo, the protagonist and the wimpiest of his litter, gets separated from his family and has to get back with the help of his quirky neanderthal sidekick spot. There. That was it. That sentence alone was worth P250 and two hours of your time.
To the movie’s credit, it has, bar none, some of the best CG environments set in the North American wild. The animation is so close to real life images that a part of you starts feeling sorry for all those poor obssessive animators. But the clever change of setting seems to be the only new bells and whistles on an otherwise familiar storyline.
Yes, we get that he was born weak and sickly. Yes, he has grown as a person because of some advice he heard earlier in the story and is now conveniently applicable. These are tropes we see coming from a mile away. One would expect the pioneer of programmed childhood memories to be pushing the limits of creativity with every release.
Pixar has burned its legacy into the hearts of unsuspecting adults and children alike. Tear after tear, they have made their mark as the masters of emotional terrorism with hits like “Father underestimates child,” “The true meaning of friendship” and “You were special all along.” (We love those tropes.) Their 20-year legacy means that they practically wrote the book on electronic tearjerkers. Two decades later, though, they seem to have revealed a pattern to their movies. Like sawing a woman in half, the trick has been revealed, propogated and parodied to no end.
What is really going on when one of the leading creative companies fails to wow us? It wasn’t too long ago that we were emotionally devastated by CGI fish and Billy Crystal’s soothingly nasal voice. Is Pixar losing its magic or are we jaded? Are we just so deep into adulthood that something so heartwarming no longer reaches our cold, septic souls?
The stories seem to be increasingly formulaic, but take it from another angle. Take apart the points we find so trite: a child figure going on a journey to overcome his/her fears and do his/her parents proud. If you really look at it, that’s also Hamlet, Star Wars, Dumbo, Pinocchio, Bambi and an entire slew of family movies in our classics bin. This isn’t the first time that story has been told, and it won’t be the last time. As original as Pixar is with their content, there are some stories that have endured well beyond any single age of storytelling. These are stories that demand retellings every dozen years because they are so essential. At this point, Pixar may just be lending itself to a tradition beyond any cutesy anthropomorphic animal.
These are stories that have to be told time and time again, if not for our generation then for the ones following us. Today’s five-year-old may not roll his eyes at an overused goofy sidekick trope; but later on, they will need to know the value of learning from their differences with others.
Pixar has just evolved to that stage. It’s a sign of the times when the company that helped you grow up is, in a way, now catering to the next generation of impressionable young tear-bags. It’s not us moving on we should be worried about, but Pixar. And, yes: you are that old.