‘The Good Dinosaur’ Mixes Visual Beauty with Mediocrity
2015 was to be a dream come true for Pixar fans. Breaking away from a two-decade-old tradition, the studio released not one, but two animated films over the course of the year. Earlier this summer, audiences were treated to a charmingly intelligent Inside Out, which to its own credit proudly stands among Pixar’s best. The question on everyone’s minds now is can their latest film, The Good Dinosaur deliver a one-two punch of acclaim?
The Good Dinosaur is a loaded with a handful of what-ifs, starting with the scenario if an asteroid missed Earth 65 million years ago sparing the dinosaurs from immediate extinction. It’s what sets the events of The Good Dinosaur into motion before fast forwarding millions of years into the future. Presumably set in the Midwest, Apatosauruses Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma Ida (Frances McDormand) take up the life of farmers. That’s right, dinosaur farmers. And the couple is expecting. Three little ones on the way, which crack out of their eggs moments after one another.
The last is Arlo (initially voiced by Jack McGraw, later Raymond Ochoa), who’s the runt of the litter after his big brother and sister. Unlike the rest of his family, Arlo struggles with his redundant farming chores and feels left out when he isn’t allowed to make his mark on the family silo, symbolizing the dinosaur’s rite of passage. One day, Arlo is tasked with protecting the silo from a wild feral boy, stealing the dinosaurs’ food. After the intruder escapes again, Arlo father forces him to track down the boy in the middle of a rainstorm, which sadly results in a turn of events that resembles certain moments from The Lion King and Bambi. Pixar goes dark.
Coping with death isn’t new territory for Pixar. Watch the first 10 minutes of Up or the close call at the end of Toy Story 3 and there’s no stopping the waterworks. With The Good Dinosaur, it’s sad without a doubt, but plays more depressing notes as the film progresses. Struggling with his internal demons, Arlo finally takes it upon himself to hunt down the wild child who started this downward spiral. Soon after, Arlo begins his to realize that he and the child, who he names Spot aren’t too different from one another.
From here on out, The Good Dinosaur evolves into a rather stale road trip, held together by the role reversal of a dinosaur and his boy. While intriguing, the concept is hardly what you’d call groundbreaking. Arlo and Spot bounce from one situation to the next, meeting various dinosaurs on the road home. The end result is a mixed bag. The first stopover with animal-collecting Styracosaurus, Forrest Woodbush (Peter Sohn) garners a few laughs here and there. The following confrontation with crazed pterodactyls and later T-Rex ranchers, led by Sam Elliott, fails to click with artificial thrills.
It’s quite an understatement to call The Good Dinosaur’s road to the big screen rocky. With story problems in production and a release pushed back nearly 18 months, the shortcomings of The Good Dinosaur come as no surprise. While there’s a sprinkle of charm under it’s dark and depressing overtones, the signature Pixar charm that we’ve come to love for 20 years is sorely lacking.
It’s a shame, because if The Good Dinosaur does anything right at all, it’s the level of detail to visuals. A jaw-dropping beautiful postcard to nature, The Good Dinosaur reaches visual levels no other Pixar film has before. Pixar continuously pushes the bar in the visual department, holding dear to some cartoonish elements. If some of the secondary dinosaur designs weren’t off-putting, one would almost forget they were watching an animated film. The score by Mychael and Jeff Danna, first-time collaborator with Pixar, highlights the Western themes The Good Dinosaur brings to the table. The concept of a dino-western still remains a weird combination, yet the score tries its hardest at bridging such a wide gap.
At its heart, there are plenty of threads of potential as The Good Dinosaur tackles an unexpected friendship, growing up and facing the grueling gauntlet that Mother Nature places before our main duo. But the key word is potential, never living up to a blossoming Pixar tale that’s worthy of the name. Even with pitch-perfect visuals, this is still a bottom of the barrel Pixar flick.
The Good Dinosaur is the last original Pixar film for at least two years as the studio goes sequel happy with the upcoming Finding Dory and Cars 3. It makes one wonder if a date with extinction isn’t too far behind.