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.
“I thought this movie was supposed to be happy” utters the mother of her children sitting directly behind me… for the third time… within the first 30 minutes of The Good Dinosaur.
Pixar’s Thanksgiving gift (and second offering of 2015) is something both expected and unexpected. In an alternate universe where dinosaurs weren’t wiped off the planet, the Apatosaur Arlo (plastered all over the promotional artwork) teams up with a Neanderthal child to find his way home as we predicted, but the journey there and back is shockingly filled with violence, death, regret, envy, drugs (I’m not joking, Arlo and Spot mistakenly eat bad fruit and subsequently hallucinate some strange shit), and bittersweet happiness.
It all starts from the very beginning, where it is evident that Arlo is the runt of his siblings, inferior to them in every way; he’s essentially a coward mucking up the most basic of tasks while the rest of his family grows crops and tends to their home. Arlo freaks out at the sight of any other creature, no matter how small. This ultimately comes back to haunt him as he is unable to kill a human critter that his father catches in a trap for stealing their corn. Arlo is ultimately just too good-natured, and incapable of harming another living being to actually go through with the task, which sets him off on a collision course with the child, dabbling in isolation and learning to work together to reach back home.
Seeing as most of the film follows Arlo and Spot stranded and trying to transfer thoughts with one another in an effort to both get along and make progress, it’s all the more rewarding that early on Pixar successfully establishes parental figures that we both care for and respect. Even Arlo’s father, who is quite obviously frequently disappointed with his son, never lashes out in full-blown anger, but rather chooses to remind him “you are me and more”. His faith in his son never wanes, which is incredibly admirable, and the beating heart of the core narrative.
Arlo wants to prove himself as anything more than useless, while understanding how to confront fears and keep cowardice at bay. He also spends a good portion of the film envying Spot due to reasons I won’t spoil here, but amidst his thirst for revenge, he accepts that working together is the only way either of them will survive. Who knew that a goofy-looking bright green dinosaur would be one of the most complex characters to appear in a film this year?
I also love how much of the story is told through facial expressions, relying on as little dialogue as possible. Without saying too much, there is a highly depressing scene where, with complete body language and objects around them, Arlo and Spot communicate to each other why they are alone and who among their relatives is deceased. Within that sadness however is the moment where the two finally begin to emotionally care about one another. It would have been really interesting to see Pixar go the whole nine yards and conceive The Good Dinosaur free of all dialogue, but what we have is admittedly still fairly engaging.
The only real problem with The Good Dinosaur is that much of the third act feels very random, choosing to introduce villains as opponents on the road home when nature is already a seemingly insurmountable force of unpredictable chaos. Furthermore, Pixar films usually don’t have stereotypical antagonists and stick to their guns by telling character driven stories that resonate with audiences young and old, rather than conforming to conventional structures. It’s a bit disappointing watching enemies appear from nowhere, when the filmmakers could have easily created the climax without them, hitting the same crucial story beats.
Also, this isn’t necessarily a complaint on my side, but even though The Good Dinosaur is rated PG, not all parents will find it suitable for children. One of Spot’s first scenes actually showcases him biting the head off (keep in mind there is no blood and it is done as cartoonish as possible) of a woodland animal in order to show Arlo what lengths one must go to in order to survive and stay fed. As previously mentioned, it’s also just generally a dark movie.
Having said all that, The Good Dinosaur is one of the studio’s better efforts over the past five years from a narrative standpoint. It also has some mind-blowingly photorealistic scenery, showing off an incredible range of detail and depth to the animation. There is a short scene where Arlo emerges from a body of water, where he’s not only highly soaked with water dripping from his underbelly, but is also noticeably dirty. Overall, this is another animated film intended to stimulate audiences of all ages; that’s what Pixar does best.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook