The Good Dinosaur, 2015
Directed by Peter Sohn
Featuring the voice talent of Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Marcus Scribner, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Steve Zahn, Mandy Freund, Steven Clay Hunter, Anna Paquin and Sam Elliott
An epic journey into the world of dinosaurs where an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend.
Prior to the release of the incredible Inside Out earlier this year, there was a worry that Pixar had lost some of their mojo. Underwhelming sequels in Cars 2 and Monsters University sandwiched the divisive Brave and suggested that Pixar had become too ingrained into the Disney lifestyle and were happy to settle for mediocrity. And with the rest of the Pixar slate for the next few years being mostly sequels (Finding Dory, Cars 3, Toy Story 4, The Incredibles 2), we should really appreciate when they bring a new IP to the table. Sadly, The Good Dinosaur is more the side of Brave Pixar than Inside Out Pixar.
Set in an alternate world where the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs missed by some distance, The Good Dinosaur sees these magnificent beasts on the next step of the evolution chain. Not contempt to just graze and kill each other, we see that dinosaurs are now farmers and cattle herders. They’ve even evolved to the point of talking to each other. So evolved are these dinosaurs, that neolithic caveman are seen as the wild animal, or “critter”. In essence, imagine if Fred Flintstone was Dino’s pet and not the other way round. Which brings us to our protagonist Arlo, the youngest of three Apatosaurus farmer children who gets seperated from his family while chasing after a critter we later learn is called Spot. Not being the bravest of his family (he gets scared feeding their chickens), Arlo must now face his fears and create a bond with Spot in order to find his way back home.
The Good Dinosaur was originally slated to be released in 2014, but creative differences and a lack of movement meant original director Bob Peterson (who co-directed Up) was removed from the project with just under a year before its May release date. According to one source at the time, Peterson couldn’t agree on what the third act of the movie should be, and the final product was ‘good but not great’. In the end, Peter Sohn was brought in as the new director and we have this version of The Good Dinosaur. And with a production story like that, the issues with the movie suddenly become more apparent.
Like previous Pixar worlds we’ve visited in Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Inside Out and Monsters Inc., there feels like there were some good intentions here in terms of creating ideas for the world of The Good Dinosaur The idea that dinosaurs have evolved past the point of humans and are now living in this Western landscape is never explored fully, and is instead sacrificed for the tried and tested ‘find our way home’ story that has been a Pixar staple since Toy Story twenty years ago. But because there aren’t enough ideas to flesh out the ‘find our way home’ story for the full runtime, The Good Dinosaur runs out of steam quite quickly. The film often resorts to cliched tactics – like a wacky meeting with a cooky individual – and there’s even a bizarre moment where Arlo and Spot get high from eating berries and being to hallucinate in a scene that brings back memories of Bevis & Butthead Do America and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Furthermore, it often feels like The Good Dinosaur was originally designed to be a silent movie. The idea of dinosaurs being able to talk while humans can’t is fine and all, but it comes across as more of a Disney ordered mandate rather than a Pixar one. As if The House of Mouse were unsure if the audience would understand everything that is going on. And if you watch the movie, it would work without dialogue as its so visually driven. Stories and emotions are told through the characters faces, and often the words are just there to hammer home the point or simply underline what’s happening. Wall-E, arguably Pixar’s greatest achievement, proved that an animation can be done with little-to-no-dialogue, and the best parts of that film are the silent ones between Wall-E and EVE. It’s the same thing here: the sequences that really carry the emotional weight in The Good Dinosaur are the ones that are dialogue-free and told through the gorgeous animation and character designs.
And The Good Dinosaur is a beautiful looking movie. It’s amazing to see just how far Pixar have come as a studio when you look back a the lifeless eyes and odd-looking faces of Toy Story to the ‘you-won’t-believe-it’s-animated’ waterfalls and landscapes here.The designs of our lead characters are sublime too, and really do help carry some of the emotional weight. During some of the sadder moments of the film, your heart will just melt when you look into the eyes of Arlo and Spot. And the relationship between Arlo and Spot is really what carries the movie past its simplistic story. They are very much at odds with each other at the start of the movie, but come together in a way that only animated characters can when you’re under the Disney umbrella. If you found yourself getting a bit weepy when watching Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3, Up and Inside Out, you will certainly find Sadness grabbing a hold of the control panel during several moments of The Good Dinosaur.
But at the end of the day, The Good Dinosaur is just a mediocre film. It looks amazing and the central relationship between the characters is heart-breakingly beautiful, but everything around them is just under-developed fluff. There is a good movie somewhere in The Good Dinosaur, but one theorises that studio interference and a lack of belief in their audience has led to this pretty lacklustre affair. Had this movie been made when Pixar were taking risks with films like Wall-E, we may have seen something much better. As such, this is a great example of the Pixar-slump that has plagued us for the last five years (Inside Out notwithstanding).
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and a contributor on The Flickering Myth Movie Show. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.