Synopsis – An epic journey into the world of dinosaurs where an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend.
My Take – Unlike other Pixar films, I did not have high expectations from this young dinosaur story. Something about the trailers & low key marketing campaign did not click with me. This year we all sighed deeply with relief when Inside Out denied our darkest fears of a Pixar permanent creative slump, even as we anxiously shuddered when staring down its dim pipeline of pending sequels. As if that weren’t enough drama, Inside Out, which crowds of critics heralded as a capital-C-Classic, has been immediately followed by this one, a film with enough production drama and postponed release dates to make us all fear a failure. Will the circle of Pixar masterpieces be unbroken? Well, No. Between Inside Out and this one, I think we can comfortably trust Pixar to continue producing both flat out masterpieces and first class stories for the foreseeable future. If you thought the trailer’s odd mixture of photo-realistic scenery and cartoonish dinosaurs was odd, so did I. But it works. The simple strokes of the CGI pens allow for the characters themselves to shine. The animators invite us to share their delight in these figures through joyous visual gags, as well as the endless fun of a classic western story and setting (complete with a western soundtrack) turned all things dinosaur. A homestead straight out of Unforgiven, a strange spiritualist learning triceratop, and a trio of longhorn herding T-Rex cowboys provide some these delightful genre callbacks (as well as some of the straight-up funniest moments I’ve seen at the theater this year). Standing tall as one of the Pixar‘s most beautiful creations to date. A lusciously crafted piece that stands as another key example of cinematography executed brilliantly in animated features. While the story hawks too much back to past Disney films like “The Lion King,” there’s no denying the emotional and cautiously executed impact the story and its characters possess. It also assembles an impressive cast of voice work that should surprise no one as each one excels in their own way. There’s a bit of “Bambi” and “The Lion King” element going on here but I think it’s because often times, coming-of-age or the rite of passage can only happen once the children are out of the parents’ home and they apply the wisdom they’ve heard their entire upbringing.
If you’ve come to get that good cry that most Pixar movies often deliver, you’ll definitely get that and a bag of chips and to add to that, this is also probably the most daring movie Pixar has ever produced, meaning that there are aspects about it that are not necessarily brutal or violent but Pixar pushes the envelope just a little bit further just to emphasize the harshness and the danger of the landscape that our characters have to venture their way through. It forces in some of the emotional content, but the visual storytelling is at a level where it hardly even matters. It also helps that this might be the best-looking Pixar film yet. The movie is constantly elevating the material, turning familiar, simple story beats into visual magic, producing scene after scene of jaw-dropping animation made all the more remarkable by the occasional touch of outright weirdness. The film’s tumultuous journey in development is felt in the narrative. The film was delayed for a year and a half for retooling, a new director coming in at some point in the production. The story just doesn’t hold together as well as one might expect. It’s all a little loose, and ultimately a little thin. The plot ends up relying a bit too much on rote lessons and familiar beats. But the looseness also gives this film a distinct personality. It is quieter than most animated pictures, and a little stranger. It exhibits its creativity in singular bursts of visual splendor, in scenes that do little to move the plot forward. The story follows an alternate world where Dinosaurs and Humans live together. Sixty-five million years in the past, the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs just narrowly missing the Earth. The story picks up millions of years later, with an Apatosaurus family building a farm out on the frontier. Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the youngest and smallest of his three siblings, and though he’s eager to prove his worth, he struggles to keep up with the rest of his family. Then, shortly after his first encounter with tragedy, Arlo falls into a river and washes up somewhere far away from his home. He goes on a long journey heading back, and finds an unlikely companion in a feral cave boy. The story is pretty straightforward and some of the humor seems to be aimed more for kids, but it’s still funny for adults in places. It is visually stunning, with cartoony animals mixed with realistic backgrounds and reflective waters, and the music is effective when needed to be. Our protagonist Arlo is both likable and relatable, which is always a good thing, and Spot has his moments in short bursts. As for the other characters, Arlo’s father will be reminiscent to a certain Disney character, but that’s not a bad thing, and the others seem to be not as important to the story, but have some development time in there. I think my biggest problem with the film is that it feels a little inconsistent and “Been there, done that” at times. The first half I feel is stronger than the second, and there’s a bit of a homage to a specific genre in there. Most importantly, I cared about the characters, but maybe I was expecting more from Pixar I don’t know. I seem to notice the more effective emotional scenes were either the silent ones, or ones that were kind of loosely based on previous Animated movies that popped right in my head at the time of watching, so not being entirely original could be considered a problem to some. Director Peter Sohn and animators rely on physical action and reaction for the most part.
And the movie does have its moments that stick out – Sam Elliott voicing a T-Rex who has a story about how he got the bite marks on his face is one such amazing thing to recommend about it – but so many things that happen are odd for such a movie. At one point little Arlo meets a triceratops (I think that’s who it was) who has a squad of little animals that he’s named as like “Destroyer” and “Diane” or whatever as his protectors. And then Arlo and ‘Spot’ (as Arlo names the little cave-boy) eat some berries which turn out to be, uh, psychedelic berries. OK then. And there’s just some dialog that straddles a line between being very kid-friendly and being on some other plane altogether. The quest here has been seen many times before, and aside from other Pixar movies, with the ‘finding our way back home’ scenario (hell, this was the basis for Inside Out just this year), one has to think about The Land Before Time as well. Remember Littlefoot trying to get back to his family and separated by so much land and nature? That’s pretty much this movie, except kind of a buddy/family movie and with a different nature-filled backdrop. It goes without saying the animation is gorgeous – the day the animation for a Pixar movie is crap (or lazy) then it will really slip off. While the designs for Arlo and Spot and some of the other dinos aren’t the most original, the backdrop more than makes up for it, and if you’re simply a fan of animated films for the technique this is must-see stuff. Young Raymond Ochoa, who voices Arlo helms the picture with gifted innocence and a palpable feeling of growth. Arlo, who’s small, fearful, and not confident is visually seen growing and maturing before our eyes. Ochoa nails every nuance and emotion required of him. Around him, Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand, who voice Momma and Poppa fearlessly engage with the very mature subject matter. As one of Pixar‘s most “adult”-like themed movies to date, there is still a sense of naivety as the parent dinosaurs attempt to teach life lessons. The rest of the cast is littered with the works of Steve Zahn, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliot, and more, all culminating in a mix of raw talent. Despite the shortcomings, I found the film very entertaining. It’s probably in the weaker tier of Pixar movies, but I wouldn’t call it bad. It’s kind of halfway between average and very good, and I feel the troubled production and staff switching caused it to be a mixed bag, although good intentions are clearly shown throughout the movie. Kids will certainly like it, and adults will at the very least appreciate what the movie tried to achieve. On the whole, ‘The Good Dinosaur’ is a good watch. The animation is fantastic, the story is interesting, and the characters are lovable. It’s Pixar and it’s good. Watch it!
Director – Peter Sohn
Rated – PG
Run Time – 93 minutes