Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Peril, Action and Thematic Elements
Directed by: Peter Sohn
Written by: Meg LeFauve
Voices of: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, AJ Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn & Peter Sohn
2015 is the first year where Pixar has released two original movies, those being INSIDE OUT and this. While the story about emotions in a little girl’s head is far superior, THE GOOD DINOSAUR serves as a simple adventure that’s clearly geared for younger ages. Just because it’s better suited for little kids doesn’t mean that this film won’t entertain older viewers though. THE GOOD DINOSAUR is worth a watch thanks to beautiful animation and a strong emotional core. The lower end of the Pixar filmography is not a bad place to be as the company consistently produces great family entertainment (MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, CARS, and CARS 2 are all worse than this).
In an alternate course of history, the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs goes slightly off track and misses Earth entirely. Millions of years pass and dinosaurs evolve into a farming society. Arlo is a cowardly Apatosaurus trying to make his mark in the family. When capturing a critter that’s been snacking on his family’s crops, Arlo discovers the corn-eating pest is a feral human child. Through a few acts of fate and a river with a strong current, the long-necked dinosaur and the little boy (later named Spot) get stranded miles away from home. With predators and various other dangers laid in their path, the unlikely pair must form a friendship and rely on each other to survive the long journey ahead of them.
The first thing that I immediately noticed about THE GOOD DINOSAUR is how great the animation looks. I’m not talking about the character design (which is more cartoony than other recent Pixar films), but rather the background designs and landscapes that these dinosaur travel through. It looks as if someone shot actual footage of wilderness and then added the cartoon dinosaurs at the last second. I was thoroughly impressed with how the small, beautiful details stuck out in this film.
The characters are a bit of a mixed bag. I like Arlo and Spot, but the rest of the dinosaurs come and go when the film needs them to drive the familiar plot forward. A family of T-rexes show up to guide our heroes for approximately ten minutes and then promptly disappear into the background as forgotten plot devices. The same happens with a quirky dinosaur who shows up for one brief scene (given away in the trailer) to give Spot his name. While FINDING NEMO sort of had the same formula, those undersea creatures were far better, more memorable characters than these so-so prehistoric reptiles.
I was especially disappointed with the villains in this movie because they had real potential to add a darkness to the film that something like LAND BEFORE TIME had (not to compare this to another animated dino adventure). I really enjoyed their presence, but they only pop up for two scenes. I wouldn’t necessarily have a big issue with this, but the movie feels the need to throw in a pack of Velociraptors for one pointless moment that could have been used to further flesh out the main antagonists. This being said, Arlo and Spot are strong enough to carry the weight of the film on their shoulders. I enjoyed watching these two main characters evolve over the course of the film. The main message of the film is a familiar one (overcoming fear to do what is right), but the way it’s executed is undeniably emotional.
For a movie that really isn’t on the same level as most of Pixar’s other creations, THE GOOD DINOSAUR had me teary-eyed during a couple of emotional scenes. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way either as a younger child in the theater knew precisely what was going on and was bawling her eyes out during the heartfelt final moments. This is one well-animated family film that will entertain viewers of all ages, though it’s obviously geared more towards younger viewers. While the movie definitely could have been better with a few creative decisions (the screenplay suffers from apparent rewrites) and remains on the lower end of Pixar’s scale, THE GOOD DINOSAUR lives up to its title in being good (but not great).