“The Good Dinosaur,” is undoubtedly one of Disney/Pixar’s most artistically rendered films to date; with breathtaking computer generated visuals of open pastures and glistening rivers, it successfully sets the tone for the animated Western. Unfortunately, the talented animators weren’t enough to save the film from an ultimately lackluster plot.
Although the film begins unexpectedly, in a world where dinosaurs have dodged the extinction bullet, it follows the familiar path of Disney films before it, using various themes from childhood classics such as “The Lion King” and “The Jungle Book.” The one saving grace is that it takes place in a previously unexplored setting–that of a dinosaur family looking to embrace manifest destiny, as demonstrated through the opening exposition montage of an Apatosaurus couple tending to their ranch.
In this opening, we’re introduced to the weakling of the pack, Arlo (Raymon Ochoa), a cowardly dinosaur who often disappoints his family by not having the courage to “make his mark.” His father, Poppa Henry, urges Arlo to face his fears by giving him the task of finding the pest who’s been eating away their corn supply. But as the two pursue the nuisance, Poppa is tragically killed (ala Mufasa), and Arlo must find his way home. Along the way, he catches up to the pest—a wolf boy of sorts—whom he eventually names Spot (Jack Bright).
The two develop a close bond, and their relationship is the emotional foundation for the entire film. As the pair cannot verbally communicate with each other, the audience must rely on visuals to understand their love. The animators surely used to their advantage, flexing their muscles to create the captivating wide open pastures the two venture into. And I’m not going to lie, I definitely cried during a couple of these scenes.
But following the introduction of Arlo and Spot’s blossoming friendship, the film diverts back into exposition mode which gets tedious quickly. Like all those old western movies you somehow find yourself watching with your dad on a Saturday night, “The Good Dinosaur” takes it’s sweet time. It leaves you wondering when the story will pick up the pace, and when the action will start. And while I can spend three hours or so watching John Wayne walking from here to there, the slow and steady approach doesn’t seem to fit in an hour and half children’s movie where time is of the essence.
Although when the film finally does pick up, there are some noteworthy gems that make “The Good Dinosaur” unique from past Pixar films. Director Peter Sohn, in his feature debut, pays close attention to the visual elements that bring us into the world, which heavily echoes that of Disneyland’s Frontierland, while also taking various risks in order to liven up the film–namely a sequence in which Arlo and Spot accidentally eat a mysterious fruit that bears hallucinogenic effects. Sohn also isn’t afraid to dabble in violence; we all know that Pixar is notorious for incorporating death into their narratives (still crying over the opening of “Up”), but “The Good Dinosaur,” is far more graphic than any preceding pixar film before it (including “Bug’s Life”).
However, while enjoyable, these elements aren’t enough to catapult the film into the Pixar hall of fame. The visuals are stunning, and there are a few memorable moments, but they’re sewn into a derivative plot. Granted, “The Good Dinosaur” is following in the truly imaginative footsteps of “Inside Out,” but the overall simplistic approach in storyline is perhaps why Pixar’s second film to be released this year can’t measure up to all of our expectations.
Photo courtesy of Pixar