DISNEY/PIXAR’S GOOD DINOSAUR ISN’T TERRIBLE, BUT IT FAILS TO LIVE UP TO PIXAR’S USUALLY LOFTY STANDARDS
Director: Peter Sohn
Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Anna Paquin and Sam Elliot
Running Time: 1 Hr, 40 Mins
Disney/Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur took a long time to get to the big screen. Originally slated for release in 2013, it was pushed back several times, with Pixar going back to the drawing board entirely at least once, replacing the director mid-production and Frances McDormand was the only member of the original cast to survive the creative purge. The finished product isn’t horrible but falls well short of Pixar’s usual standards and it might have been interesting to see what Pixar had up its sleeve before scrapping the original plans.
Millions of years after a massive asteroid barely missed Earth, a pair of Sauropods welcome three new additions to their family. Among them is Arlo, the smallest of the children who is skittish and timid from birth. The dinosaur family live on a farm growing corn and raising chickens (who more than occasionally bully the young Arlo) and have to contend with regular visits from a mysterious thief who raids their food stores. Arlo’s constant fear keeps him from being as valuable to the farm as his siblings and his confidence wanes further as he witnesses their personal achievements grow.
When tragedy robs Arlo of his beloved father, the family find themselves struggling to get by and further events soon see Arlo stranded in the wilderness, terrified and desperate to get home. His only ally is the “critter” responsible for stealing their food and leading him and his father on a fatal goose chase. The two must co-operate in order to survive an unforgiving wilderness and get Arlo home. And there is no shortage of danger confronting the two, from more deadly weather to other, carnivorous dinosaurs.
There are moments in The Good Dinosaur where Pixar does what it does best; tug at your heartstrings. There are also a few moments of genuine comedy, particularly when the two dine on some berries that have some interesting psychological side effects. The animators do an excellent job of building a convincing, frontier landscape (there’s a definite old west feel to Dinosaur, whether it be the family roughing it alone on the plains to the T-Rex cattle herders to the wide open, Grand Canyon-like vistas) as well as granting their non-human characters genuine human emotions.
But unlike previous Pixar efforts, Dinosaur seems more content to settle for mediocrity rather than explore it’s own potential. The entire movie feels like its satisfied to merely scratch the surface of what it could do.
In the Cars movies, Pixar did a brilliant job of building an entire world around talking automobiles. They created a fantastic alternate timeline in The Incredibles where super heroes not only existed but were once the world’s greatest celebrities. In the Monsters movies they imagined an entire world populated by monsters that were afraid of the humans who lived in the world right next door. Pixar has always excelled at building the worlds it creates for its characters and exploring those fictional places to get a better handle on the protagonists. But in Dinosaur we only get see a little, isolated corner of a world that is supposed to exist millions of years after the catastrophe that drove the dinosaurs into extinction happened. There are only a dozen speaking characters throughout the entire film and the entire movie feels limited.
The voice casting also lacks the same gravitas Pixar is usually known for. Nothing against the remaining cast but they just seem to have the same presence as a Toy Story or even last summer’s blockbuster Inside Out. While Spot (the little Neanderthal) can communicate through facial expressions, he pales in comparison to how well Wall-E was able to emote with a pair of eyes and some beeps. And unlike previous Pixar movies, Dinosaur doesn’t really have a primary villain. There are a few bad guys that wander through here and there, but the primary adversary in Dinosaur seems to be nature herself. It just isn’t as satisfying seeing a character overcome a raging river or a thunderstorm as it is watching them battle a cursed demon bear or outwit a pack of malevolent toys.
The Good Dinosaur isn’t a bad family flick (though it does have a few uncharacteristically startling moments), but like it’s main character, it seems afraid of its own potential and is unwilling to try and be something more.