I usually try to go to a movie on Monday night and today there wasn’t’ anything new I wanted to see so I saw The Good Dinosaur for the third time. I watched it cognizant of the many of the complaints I’ve heard over the last few months and you know what? I freakin loved it! None of the things that bother other people bother me, and it’s got me pondering.
As a writer I hope to be able to quantify why something works and why it doesn’t work, but sometimes that can be easier said than done. Sometimes it is confusing even for me why the same problem in one film drives me crazy, while in another I don’t care the slightest.
For example, everyone it seems went ga-ga for Bridge of Spies and I was left a little puzzled. To me I nodded off and thought it was fine but thoroughly conventional. It was a part courtroom drama I’ve seen before and part diplomatic film I’ve seen before.
But then in contrast look at Good Dinosaur which is also conventional in some ways, and some also think it is slow, and yet I loved it. How do I explain the differing reactions? Both are well made movies and yet one’s conventionality or lack of originality bothered me and another it didn’t?
There are other examples I could use. Like I thought Spectre was a disappointment because it went back to the old school Bond I don’t really like. I didn’t like Terminator Genisys and was lukewarm about Jurassic World. I loved The Peanuts Movie, which pulls a lot from existing source material. Why does one work and another not?
Many have criticized Star Wars: Force Awakens for a lack of originality and I loved that movie. I’ve seen it 4 times and like it more each time I see it. Hmmmm…
Is it all just random?
I’ve always said that most movies are like giving the director a movie kit. This kit can be an action movie kit, or a comedy kit and a good director will take that kit and do something clever, charming, startling whatever with said kit.
Star Wars was definitely a ‘star wars kit’ but it did new and different things with it. For example, having a storm trooper defecting was new. Rey’s vision was something new (we’ve never had a flashback of any kind in Star Wars). All the new characters were just that new. Also the look and feel of it was something we haven’t seen in a long time so in many ways it felt like a combination of new and old.
The Good Dinosaur is kind of the same way. They took a hero journey dinosaur movie we’ve seen before and added an emotional complexity I wasn’t expecting that moved me. There were characters that are mean and scary and that surprised me. There’s humor and I loved Arlo and Spot. Then you add the new visuals which blew me away you have something that dazzled me.
The Peanuts Movie may be familiar to some but it kept things simple and sweet and the core of who Charlie Brown is. I loved the animation and it was a funny, lovely movie. I think I didn’t mind it was unoriginal because I don’t want original thinking when it comes to Peanuts for goodness sakes!
There are so many movies I loved this year which you could say come from kits. Cinderella, I loved and does it really do anything that revolutionary? No, it tells it’s story well and that’s all it had to do.
I still maintain that Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man both executed a comic book movie kit well. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation delivered the Mission Impossible kit well. Brooklyn gave me the old fashioned romantic drama kit perfectly. I didn’t any of these films to reinvent the wheel- just execute the movie kit you are given well and they did.
I guess after all one of my favorite writers (not just movies) of all time is Nora Ephron and her movies definitely use kits but she does it so well. I love You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally despite the formula. I love the characters, writing, commentary on life, romance and stories.
In fact, if you go down my favorite movies of all-time many of them aren’t all that ‘original’. Let’s look at them:
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
- Little Mermaid/Beauty and the Beast
- Wizard of Oz
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- Sound of Music/Singing in the Rain
- When Harry Met Sally/You’ve Got Mail
- Empire Strikes Back/Star Wars
- Perks of Being a Wallflower
- The Apartment
- Spirited Away
- Back to the Future
- All About Eve
- Raiders of the Lost Arc
- Where the Wild Things Are
- Lord of the Rings
They all have original elements to them but most of them are based on previously existing novels. I love these movies so much and yet people bring up negative things about them all the time. I shrug and say ‘doesn’t bother me’. Because it is true!
Maybe it is foolish of me to try to explain my opinion at all when it is so random? All I know is what I like and don’t like, and I enjoy sharing it with all of you.
When it comes down to it, I don’t mind kit movies. I don’t mind stock characters. I don’t even mind a Mary Sue from time to time (there I said it) but it all has to be within the picture as whole working and having enough good pieces for me to enjoy it.
There it is. The answer- Does the good outweigh the bad? Indeed does it make me forget, not even notice the bad? Good Dinosaur, Peanuts Movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: Force Awakens, all did that for me this year. Terminator Genisys, Spectre, Jurassic World, Bridge of Spies did not.
Maybe it’s not so complicated after all?…