Pixar has had it’s fair share of all-time great films, but as the title hints at, The Good Dinosaur is only good. Give the credit to the artists on this recent film expanding their artistic and technological advancements that go into the settings they have beautifully constructed for their sixteenth feature length film, but even the lush settings and backgrounds aren’t enough to bring The Good Dinosaur to the storytelling standards Pixar has been spoiling us with since the dawn of Toy Story. The difference between this film and most of the top Pixar films are how their stories were carefully constructed for us to eventually see in theaters, but this has been a problem child for the studio for a few years now and it shows.
The story is about Arlo – a young Apatosaurus – who is swept down a river away from his family of farming long neck dinosaurs. Arlo is a timid and fearful young dinosaur who has, from birth, been the one in his family to “try and leave his mark” as a part of the family and a part of this world. The idea of “what if the meteor didn’t kill of the dinosaurs” shows through their constructs of farms and homes and humanistic creations. Rather than seeing the Neanderthals being the ones making the homes and creating silos, instead it is these dinosaurs still roaming the earth. With that come the tropes of a human tale of courage, family, and friendship.
With that being said, this feels like it is targeted more at the younger audience. What some of the great animated pictures over the years have been so good at is mining the formula to creating animated films that are kid friendly, but not just for kids. In this case, The Good Dinosaur does not have all the ingredients to be served as a full course meal to both kids and adults. But to be fair, there are scenes that take even the adults by surprise. Whether it be the decapitation of giant bugs or the somewhat gruesome depictions of cute critters being meals for some meat craving dinosaurs, this has all the thematic elements to be a film with adult premises, but instead is a lackluster tale of sorrow through the eyes of a “boy and his dog” type story.
To the credit of the film makers, their take on the relationship between Arlo and the corn stealing Neanderthal child he journeys with is both funny and emotionally visceral. The innocence of Arlo’s character are the driving force behind any emotional pull as well as the youthful energy of his voice actor Raymond Ochoa. With his unknown talents shining through Arlo’s story, it brings the lack of voice from his new pal he calls Spot to a head. It’s one scene in particular that elevates their relationship for me personally, and it involves both of them detailing (without words) their families whom they are separated from and it’s similar to the wordless grandeur that is Wall-E where so much can be said without saying a word.
It’s when we come to a trio of T-Rexes, who double as longhorn herders – because them hunting meat creatures isn’t suitable for this type of film – and a rumbling Sam Elliot voiced leader of their pack do we see the film lose it’s way and stumble like Arlo himself waiting to figure out where this destination is actually going to lead. Elliot is a T-Rex with an obvious past as he bares scars on his face and the voice of a man who has been there, and it becomes refreshing to see the T-Rex become a friendly and wholesome beast. Herding cattle, telling stories around a fire, and even a run in with the backwoods talking field raptors does this film take an unusual turn for the villainous characters Arlo and his friends meet along the way. With that being said, there are even scenes with rotten fruits that put our heroes into a bit of an acid trip and that’s pretty weird in of itself, but the pterodactyls are the characters in this film that make my skin crawl.
Though it’s an animated film, it doesn’t make the carnivorous passive-aggressive reptile birds any less unnerving. Known as “Thunderclap” – not kidding – we are treated to one of the most vile types of villains in Pixar’s catalog. A creature that speaks like the drug addicted beach bum locals warn you about, you are taken back at the actions Thunderclap and his cronies act upon. It was a part of the film that I’m not sure I was ready for and hoped it stayed in that kid friendly realm like it had been for quite some time. But even past all those shocking moments, The Good Dinosaur has a meaningful heart and has the best intentions for it’s audience but it struggles to figure out where it wants to go as well as wanting to leave a long lasting mark on the audience. Kids will like it, but the parents and film fanatics hoping for two great Pixar films this year, consider them as one and a half good movies.