Some things start out big, and some things start out small, very small
The Good Dinosaur is directed by Peter Sohn (in his directorial debut) and stars the voices of Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Steve Zahn, Jeffrey Wright, and Frances McDormand. It is the sixteenth film released by Pixar Animation Studios.
The unfortunate thing about The Good Dinosaur is that it will forever be known as one of Pixar's inferior works, especially considering how the movie was Pixar's next feature after Inside Out, the movie that got Pixar out of a skid that lasted a couple of years and helped the studio return to form. 2015 was the first year in which Pixar released more than one feature film, though I'm not sure how any reasonable person could go into The Good Dinosaur thinking it could top Pixar's earlier 2015 film Inside Out (which I've raved about on a countless number of past reviews but have yet to actually review...), given the latter film's creativity and how much it offers to both kids and adults. No way could the good Pixar animation workers exert that much brain power over the span of one year.
None of that is to say that The Good Dinosaur is bad. It's just that the movie doesn't reach the lofty heights that we came to expect from practically every Pixar feature, until the release of the first Cars proved to the world that the people of Pixar are human beings and can't dish out utterly fantastic works every year. The Good Dinosaur is like eating the leftovers of the most delicious, mouth-watering meal you had from the night before: it still has that good taste, but it just doesn't taste as good. Not only that, but this is a Pixar film that I think can be appropriately labeled as a pure kids film, one that doesn't have a highly intelligent subtext like a lot of Pixar's early works - films like Toy Story that have a lot going on underneath the surface - those films being family-oriented as opposed to being aimed at children. But despite being better suited for kids, adults can walk away from The Good Dinosaur feeling amused and not like they just tragically lost 93 minutes of their lives.
The Good Dinosaur takes place in an alternate history, one where the asteroid that would have hit Earth and wiped out all of the dinosaurs instead passes safely over Earth. Some million years later, Apatosaurus farmers Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and Ida (Frances McDormand) celebrate the birth of their three children: Libby (Maleah Padilla), Buck (Marcus Scribner), and the runt Arlo (Raymond Ochoa). While Libby and Buck prove to be successful in doing farm work, Arlo struggles with his chores, due to his timid nature. Libby and Buck are allowed to "make their mark" by putting a muddy footprint on the family's food silo. Hoping for Arlo to make his mark, Henry assigns Arlo the task of catching the thief that has been stealing food out of the silo. Arlo is able to catch the thief: a feral young boy. However, Arlo finds himself unable to kill the boy, deciding to let him go free. Angry, Henry makes Arlo join him in their pursuit of the boy. Henry and Arlo get caught in a storm, but Henry saves Arlo before being swept away and killed by a flash flood.
Back home, Arlo is forced to take on a heavier workload. He finds the boy once again stealing food out of the silo, and, blaming the boy for his father's death, chases him until both fall into the river. When Arlo awakes after being swept away, he finds himself far from home and joined in company by the young boy. Arlo and the boy, later discovered to have the name Spot, eventually band together and embark on an adventure to get back home.
You can easily see that The Good Dinosaur deals with morals about standing up in the face of fear and being brave, as Arlo finds himself in a series of dangerous situations and needing to gather up the courage to keep moving forward. "Finding your inner courage" is a common theme in movies, especially those geared towards the younger set. But learning to be brave, I think we can all agree, is something we should teach to children; they can't stay in their timid shells forever, because the world is full of uncertainty, and kids should learn how to handle adversity whenever it strikes. That is to say there are several good messages contained within The Good Dinosaur. What's keeping me from considering the messages a high point is the execution.
- The animation is fantastic as it always is with Pixar. The colors and textures of the backgrounds look very realistic, which, I'm sure if seen in 3-D, would be one of the most aesthetically pleasing things your eyes would've seen from an animated movie in recent memory. Meanwhile, Arlo and the other characters are very much cartoon-looking, with adorable eyes and stretchy body types that would model something out of a Looney Tunes or Tom & Jerry cartoon. This dichotomy between the photo realistic backgrounds and the cartoonish display of the dinosaur/human characters may seem off-kilter, but they really do mesh together well.
- The thing that diminishes my liking towards The Good Dinosaur is the fact that the movie is a force-it-down-your-throat tearjerker. Poor Arlo gets trapped, thrown around, and tormented in almost every way imaginable, to the point that it becomes too much. The movie doesn't earn your tears the way that other emotional and sweet-natured Pixar movies do, this movie going for a much cheaper approach that is along the lines of, "This poor dinosaur! He's getting in trouble every where he goes! Isn't that just the saddest thing ever?! Come on, you gotta cry! Why aren't you crying yet?" Arlo will be put into a situation even worse than one he was in before, because the movie wants to do everything in its power to get some tears out of you, never hesitating to go to whatever lengths imaginable to make you cry.
Aaaand I think that's just about it. The Good Dinosaur is a pretty quick movie and one that isn't all that deep, so there just isn't as much here to say as there would be with other, more layered Pixar movies. Children should love and adore The Good Dinosaur, and adults should find it a fun, colorful adventure as well. It may be an unrelenting tearjerker, but the good this movie offers does outweigh the bad. One other good thing I can say about the movie is that it's up and above a lot of the kiddie junk that comes out these days. Thank God that Pixar cares about entertaining children in a thoughtful and respectable manner, you can't say that about every studio.
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