Pixar is one of the reigning masters of film, in a class of their own, creating artful cinema that somehow appeals to everyone, everywhere, no matter what age.
Classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, Up, Wall-E and more have captured the heart and imagination of audiences, with Pixar offering on a consistent basis what very few studios can craft in decades of output. There’s always something relatable, something to make you laugh and something to make you cry. That’s the beauty of Pixar – their movies are almost always good. So, with a lot of weight on its shoulders, did The Good Dinosaur live up to the Pixar name?
When I first heard about The Good Dinosaur, I thought that the premise sounded pretty creative and fun: Dinosaurs are never wiped out and instead, live on to learn farming techniques. Pretty cool idea. I’ll touch more on that world-building premise later.
Before getting into the meat of things, the Pixar short that preceded The Good Dinosaur, titled Sanjay’s Super Team, was a heartwarming (as usual) little story. I won’t tell you too much about it, because you should just see it for yourself, but it is predictably creative, well-constructed and beautiful to look at. It sheds a light on Indian culture, which was really neat, and displays some tender aspects of a father-son relationship, anchored by the weight of imagination.
Anyways, onto the review.
You know, Pixar always impresses me with its visuals. The Good Dinosaur, of course, is no exception. It’s easily one of their most visually robust films. The environments and backdrops are particularly beautiful. Most of the scenery, in fact, is bordering on photorealistic. I’ve heard some complaints that the contrast of the realistic surroundings with the cartoonish characters was too jarring. I, however, didn’t find it to be a problem. The film is just a beauty. Everything from the animation, to the colors, to the art direction, excels on a level that is unparalleled in CGI and animation – and I saw it in 3D, so I was treated to an extra helping of eye candy.
Pixar is known for unique and creative premises, with memorable characters and effective storylines, so I’m accustomed to that kind of treatment when going into any one of their films. The Good Dinosaur is a very sweet and touching story, following Arlo, an underdog Apatosaurus who is the weakest of his siblings and often afraid of most things, including bugs and rustling bushes. He has loving parents and two younger siblings – very much a tight knit family who work on their farm together in interesting dinosaur ways. Arlo’s father is a sturdy one who wants very badly for Arlo to conquer his fears and earn his ‘mark’. Without spoiling much, Arlo ends up separated from his family and the majority of the film is his journey to find them and overcome his fears, along with his new human friend, Spot, who is an uncivilized little boy with dog-like tendencies. I was very entertained by the story of the film. I liked Arlo, I liked Spot, their interactions were funny and cute, and their journey had plenty of ups and downs along the way. My problems with the film, though, reside in two main things:
1. The story is very safe and predictable.
2. The film struggles to find its unique identity in the premise.
When I say the story is safe and predictable, I mean mostly in comparison to Pixar’s other films. Honestly, it’s pretty straightforward and if you’re at all familiar with most story arcs, you can usually guess what’s going to happen next. That’s not to say it’s bad, because I really did like watching this movie. It just felt like a safe play by Pixar – rather than a risk-taking movie with a fairly unique story and premise, like the recent Inside Out. Of course, you will laugh, of course you’ll smile, and of course, your heart will be shattered into a million pieces when certain scenes take place in the movie. So, really, even though I have my criticisms, Pixar is simply the best at drawing out emotion of its viewers and still delivering a satisfying, heartwarming adventure. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s always perfectly executed when an emotional scene arises. It always punches you right in the damn chest and next thing you know, you’re trying to sneakily wipe away the tears from underneath your 3D glasses.
I really did enjoy Arlo as the main character. You just want to root for the guy and you really, really are pulling for him to reach within himself, be brave and make the strides he needs to in order to survive and keep pushing. Actually, his vulnerability, mixed with his adoration and bond with his father, reminds me a lot of Simba and Mufasa. That being said, Arlo never reaches the points that Simba does and never quite matures to that degree, but that’s not to say we won’t see that transformation in a future sequel to The Good Dinosaur. Spot, the crazy-creature-human-child, is an interesting, wild character. He’s cute and he acts like a dog – like, they pretty much mirrored all of his mannerisms after those of a dog. It was…I don’t know, a little odd. But, it made sense, I guess. Kind of. The relationship between these two unlikely friends develops and brings a lot of great moments to the screen, both heart wrenching and uplifting.
Now to touch on my second significant criticism of the movie; I think it’s biggest weakness, and what may hold it back from being on the level of other Pixar classics, is its lack of identity in a unique premise.
Toy Story showed us Toys who came to life when the owner was away, going on perilous adventures to reunite with their beloved boy Andy. Finding Nemo took a dive underwater with sea creatures and let us see both sides of a Father and Son separated across the deep blue. Monsters, Inc. let us in on the secret lives and jobs of the monsters that live in every kid’s closet. So, what is the unique premise that The Good Dinosaur offers?
Well, besides what I’ve mentioned about dinosaurs not being wiped out and instead surviving a few million years longer, learning how to farm and self-sustain, there’s not much else making it incredibly unique. Even the mentioned farming premise isn’t really enough to make it that unique, and if it was, it barely spends enough time around that element for us to remember. Along with that, there is a strange frontier-like, Wild West tone in the movie and it feels a bit forced and out of place. As a matter of fact, it feels like a placeholder of ‘quirkiness’ that was added last second, since the movie didn’t have many significant identifiers, like its predecessors. In line with the odd tones, the extra characters that Arlo and Spot run into along the way also feel a bit hollow and hastily pasted into the equation.
That being said, with the strange Western accents and noticeably absent uniqueness, I remembered the many reports of The Good Dinosaur having gone through production hiccups, such as changing directors part way through development and completely re-working the story to simplify it. So, it’s pretty obvious that most, if not all of the movie’s shortcomings are simply due to the fact that it was gutted and redone, with a new individual at the helm of directing duties. It’s never easy for a film to come out of such a process and succeed. Really, it’s surprising that The Good Dinosaur was still a solid movie at all, because it should’ve failed. I think that in the end, it delivers as a kid’s movie and can be enjoyed by the whole family as well, despite its flaws.
Maybe The Good Dinosaur isn’t perfect, but it’s still a movie that’s easy to love. And hey, let’s give it some credit, because it’s been down a long, bumpy road to get here. It’s beautiful in every sense of the word, makes you cheer for its characters, breaks your heart and then stitches it back together, putting a smile on your face. Arlo and Spot might not stand against Mike and Sully, or Buzz and Woody, but they still found a way to warm up to me and get on my good side, making me want to see more of what adventures they might have in store for the future.
What did you guys think about The Good Dinosaur? Forgettable? Awesome? Agree or disagree with my review? Let’s start a discussion in the comments below!
Author: Austin Adams @IamAustinAdams
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