Director: Peter Sohn
Cast: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Eliot, Anna Paquin and Frances McDormand
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: November 27th
For too long, it has felt that family-movies were a little too safe and sanitized. “Back in my day”, you might hear someone complain, “kids movies would traumatize you senseless.” And they’d be right, because when was the last time the young’uns had to endure something along the lines of Bambi’s mom being shot? While some might point to the opening ten-minutes of Up, or saying goodbye to Bing Bong in Inside Out, that was more likely to have the adults in the audience blubbing than the children they’ve brought along. In reality, kids these days have been held with mittens for far too long, and Pixar has decided to take up the mantle as their present-day traumatiser with The Good Dinosaur, which in the end feels like the Mouse House’s take on The Impossible.
In a “What if the Asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs had missed Earth?” scenario, Arlo (an annoyingly, whiny-voiced Raymond Ochoa) is the runt of his family of Apatosaurus, with his bigger, smarter siblings and him looked over by their loving parents, played with teeth-rotting levels of sweetness by Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand. The opening twenty minutes are worryingly saccharine, until Spot (Jack Bright) shows up, a rabid human boy who has been knicking their food. When Arlo and his dad chase Spot off their land, a sudden-flash flood separates everyone by miles, and Arlo ends up with Spot, lost and alone.
In much the same manner that Cars was dealing with some pretty heavy, adult-aimed subject matter – think about it, Owen Wilson was on the verge of dying until he learned to alleviate the stresses of his lifestyle – The Good Dinosaur is taking aim at facing your fears of death and abandonment head on, while those on the hunt for some subtext could probably find a “We Want You!” army recruitment angle to the “Make Your Mark” message imbedded in the movie’s foundation.
Visually, the movie is typically stunning for a Pixar movie, but in a completely atypical way. Arlo, Spot and co. are all obvious cartoon-y based animations, while the surroundings and landscapes they’ve placed into are so photorealistic you’ll swear blind that they’re real, and are presented in such an old-fashioned, widescreen way as to make it one of Pixar’s more cinematically minded movies in some time. There’s also a number of hallmark, jaw-dropping scenes that will make some best of lists, including one involving a pack of pterodactyls circling their prey, their beaks breaking through the clouds like the shark-fins in Jaws.
That hybrid, mix-and-match style also spills over to the story, which ranges from the trippy (literally in one case, as Arlo and Spot start hallucinating after eating some “strange fruit”), to the forcefully funny (director Sohn voices a hippy triceratops who wants Spot to join his gang), to the somewhat odd (while we enjoy the sights and sounds of Sam Elliott as a cowboy T-Rex, the movie does suddenly become a western from his arrival onwards).
We’re more sure than ever that Pixar is not concerned with making movies just for kids, but considering they’re going to be their biggest audience, will kids like The Good Dinosaur? Maybe, after the tears have been wiped away, they’ll admit to liking it, but even they’ll be sure to notice that this is Pixar’s most unoriginal film to date. As the duo make an episodic journey to their destination meeting an array of oddballs on the way (hello Finding Nemo), one a man-cub (a la The Jungle Book), the other an Apatosaurus who hasn’t yet learned to fend for himself (hey there The Land Before Time), having been presumed dead by their family (that’ll be An American Tale), and getting help from what looked like the big bad monsters but turned out to be simply misunderstood (hello again Finding Nemo), they ultimately discover the only way they can get home is to team up and work together (as in Toy Story).
Does being this unoriginal automatically make it a bad film? No, of course not, and The Good Dinosaur is fitfully entertaining, so no need to rank it alongside Cars 2 as one of Pixar’s worst. However, considering its come just five months after Inside Out, one of Pixar’s best, it’s disappointing that we can put it alongside Brave and Monsters University as one of their most forgettable.