Imagine a world where the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs missed the planet. What would change about the landscape of our planet? How would the dinosaurs evolved? Could you see dinosaurs becoming farmers, while some species like a T-Rex turn into cattle wranglers?
Yeah, me neither. But that’s what we get out of Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.”
Of all the angles to take with bringing dinosaurs back to life, what Pixar did was off-the-wall crazy and borderline tedious. In fact, this story did not need to be told with dinosaurs at all. Our main character, Arlo, being a dinosaur never seems relevant to his journey of getting back home while overcoming his fear of anything that might spook him.
Perhaps “The Good Dinosaur” felt underwhelming because it came out so close to one of the best Pixar releases in a while, “Inside Out.” But another reason might be that the film does nothing with its wonderful set up. Rather than seeing how much the world would change if velociraptor, Triceratops and T-Rexs’ still existed in the world, we got a western that plays like an episode of “Gumby.” At times, this film feels like a watered-down version of “The Land Before Time,” while other times are straight out of “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” or “Shane.” This was jarring to say the least.
But, to the films’ credit, when it’s good, it is impressive. The animation for the landscape is something I have never seen before in an animated film, where every tree feels like I could reach out and touch it, while the mountains and river look calming and dangerous all at the same time. Any time the sun sets, the sky looks though it is exploding with purple and orange.
When “The Good Dinosaur” wants to be a western, the cinematography puts Sergio Leone to shame. But what really sold me was a scene in which Arlo and the T-Rex wranglers talk about their scars and how they each got them. One dino got the tip of her tail torn off by a boulder, while another was attacked by a gator and had his face disfigured. They all wear their scars with pride and wouldn’t change a thing about themselves.
Arlo comments about how fearless they are, but the lead Rex (voiced by Sam Elliot) says he was terrified while having his face ripped apart. He comments that it is perfectly normal to feel fear, and that we cannot stop it from happening. That fear is like a storm – it will come for you and you will notice it, but how you adapt to it is what makes or breaks you.
I’ve never heard it put quite like that, and it is not overblown or exaggerated. This is a message simple enough for children to understand, without dumbing anything down.
Outside of these elements, “The Good Dinosaur” tries way too hard to be every genre imaginable that it is hard to fully enjoy. It wants to be a coming-of-age tale, a fantasy, family comedy, tragedy, adventure, western, cartoon, a boy-and-his-dog story and epic quest all at the same time. Does it pull this off? Most of the time it doesn’t, but a few quiet moments between Arlo and his human pet Spot that make the journey worth it.
Final Grade: C+