It started distressingly early during “The Good Dinosaur,” distressingly enough. Pixar’s latest is unusually childish, and it’s been rewarded with what's, for them, unusually lukewarm reviews and middling box office. But my eyes quickly started to water, even before its runt of an Apatosaurus named Arlo watched as his macho father died a la Bambi’s mom. Arlo was born small and is a total weakling, freaking out at the slightest bit of distress. He’s pushed around by his bigger, stronger siblings, and he’s so down on himself that it’s inevitable the plot will revolve around him being forced to man up.
This is all pretty stock, and yet after a good 15 minutes I considered fleeing the theater for the bathroom and bawling into some toilet paper. And I don’t even know why. I’m not a crier. The most I can muster is getting misty-eyed. (I mean, I cry a little. I have student debt.) Something about “The Good Dinosaur” and its simplistic look at childish fragility (and Arlo’s movingly childlike voice, delivered by actual child Raymond Ochoa) triggered something deep inside me. I didn’t cry, but I came close — just as I did, sometimes briefly, sometimes repeatedly, during “Creed,” during “Carol,” during “Brooklyn,” during “Chi-Raq,” during “45 Years.” (I managed to stay dry during the whale-cannibal movie “In the Heart of the Sea.”)
This has been happening a lot, and I’m not the only one. Fellow critics have confessed to tearing up through a decent chunk of the fall movie season’s classier wares. This summer countless reviews included admissions of crying like a maniac through “Inside Out,” another Pixar film, and one far more mature than “The Good Dinosaur” — though also more sadistic. Where kids saw brightly-colored characters acting silly, adults got to relive that exact moment when childhood gave way to neurotic adolescence — when feelings became more complex, when one learned that life is often sad if not worse, and the only way to stay sane is to accept that.