The Good Dinosaur is based in the idea that Earth was never hit by a meteor; the meteor missed it and thus dinosaurs never died out but continued to thrive. And so we are introduced to Henry and Ida, an apatosaurus couple who are also farmers. They have three children, and The Good Dinosaur is mainly the story of Arlo, their youngest and most cowardly child. Arlo loses his well-meaning father early on, and later gets separated from the rest of his family by accident. He strikes up a friendship with a little boy whom he names Spot and adopts as a pet of sorts, and they journey together to find their way home.
I find myself rather apathetic about this movie. On the one hand, it’s very predictable and the storyline is relatively bland. I say “relatively” because if this had come from a lesser animation house, we’d all be saying that it’s a good effort. But we’re talking about Pixar here, and Pixar is a victim of its own successes. They’ve taught us to expect high quality storytelling and high quality technique from them, and so we do. Thus it’s a disappointment when it seems to be lacking that special spark of a really unique point of view that made their earliest movies so intriguing. On the other hand, there were scenes that were definitely moving and brought tears to my eyes. So, can I say it’s “just okay” when it did enough to move me to shed a few tears?
… Yes, I can. Because I would say the same about Inside Out. I haven’t written my review of that yet. WHOOPS. Ok, should get to it before the year is out.
- The scenery is beautiful. And amazingly realistic. It really does look like the American Northwest – Montana or Wyoming. The light reflecting off water in a couple of scenes gave me mini-chills, so well was it done. The fireflies in the fields were so pretty too!
- The part where Spot tries to bring different potential meals for Arlo was really funny, with Spot’s expressions of disgust at Arlo’s inability or dismissal of all the potentially yummy things (like giant bugs). When he tears the head off the giant bug for Arlo, the audience just cringes along with Arlo. There was an audible “ewww” from the audience at my screening. haha
- A dinosaur with his pet boy. The reversal of roles was a really interesting starting point. But…
- … But, oh, wasted potential. The story somehow never really took off on its own. It felt a little too familiar. (At times it was reminiscent of The Lion King‘s story.) The story at its core was: Boy and his dog try to get home and along the way they meet an assortment of quirky characters. This alone is not a problem because if you take most of the Pixar movies and reduce them to the absolute basics, they’re not very different – t the outcast that eventually saves his family and friends (A Bug’s Life), two people who are opposites and/or can’t stand each other are forced to work together and eventually become friends (Toy Story), arrogant fellow has to learn that there’s more to life than winning (Cars), an unlikely couple meet and fall in love (WALL-E), a dysfunctional group learn to overcome the odds and discover that they make quite a team (The Incredibles), etc. (Hah, I just realised that the line I used for Incredibles could also apply to The Avengers or to The Mighty Ducks.)
The problem is that it didn’t feel like The Good Dinosaur made really good use of its intriguing role-reversal of the “boy and his dog” idea. It was kinda cute, but that’s all. Pixar have already proven that they can tell a story with hardly any dialogue (WALL-E and that magnificent opening montage in Up) so there was nothing new in the (very good) animation of Spot and his non-speaking expressiveness.
It’s tricky criticising the narrative qualities of a movie like this because I end up asking myself whether I could do better. And mostly, I don’t think I could. What could or would I do with the starting point of “a dinosaur and his boy?” Could I make it any more compelling than director Pete Sohn ultimately did? It’s not an easy job, and I’m sure they did what they could. Nevertheless, it’s also difficult for me sometimes to articulate what I found lacking in a movie like this one. It had moving scenes, it was beautifully animated and rendered, and it was generally okay. But that elusive Something that made so many of Pixar’s earliest movies shine is lacking here for me.
And Other Stuff
- I found it a tiiiny bit odd that the characters were designed to be so cartoonish when the background was so realistic. It wasn’t that they felt out of place, and it certainly didn’t bother me much. But it just made me curious as to the rationale behind the decision to keep the background that way instead of choosing a slightly more stylised route (and they could have done so, since this was essentially a story in an alternate universe Earth.
- Cattle rancher T-rexes were fun, but can three T-rexes really keep control of what looked like a herd of hundreds of giant bison?
- Was going to say something about the music but I find that I can’t remember any of it. :/
- I appreciate the visual gag of the “shark fins” poking out of storm clouds and “swimming” in circles… But does that mean the pterodactyls were flying upside down??
- I am convinced that it is a cinematic rule that where there is a river, there will be someone falling in it, and there will be a waterfall immediately ahead of where they fell in.
Overall rating (out of 5): ★★½