Tweetable Takeaway: The Good Dinosaur doesn’t earn the emotional payoff it strives for, but remains entertaining. Tweet
Take two parts the Old West, three helpings of dinosaurs, and a sprinkling of overcoming obstacles while conquering fears over the whole thing and you’ve got yourself the recipe for THE GOOD DINOSAUR. There are plenty of clever scenes that result from this amalgamation, though not as many as there easily could be–and certainly not as many as we would expect from Pixar. For every sequence showing Apatosauruses irrigating a field by being their own sprinklers, there’s at least one derivative scene or character that’s been done better elsewhere. That’s not to say there’s not a lot to enjoy in The Good Dinosaur, as viewers certainly won’t be bored, but it may leave you pining to watch one of Pixar’s better films instead, a movie that actually manages to hit the emotional payoff for which it reaches.
The movie opens with an asteroid heading straight for Earth, gaining speed as it goes, and narrowly avoiding an impact. Cut ahead millions of years: dinosaurs have achieved sentience and have ostensibly mirrored human history, and when we meet up with them, they’re currently around the 1850s, farming and rustling livestock. And most talk in Southern cowboy accents. Our protagonist is Arlo, the youngest in a family of Apatosaruses on a peaceful family farm. Everyone manages to contribute in some meaningful way except Arlo, who’s afraid of everything that moves, and just about everything that doesn’t, as well. A storm comes, Arlo gets separate from his family, and has to find his way back. If you’ve ever seen a movie before, you know what’s coming.
Arlo will meet kooky characters, have his mettle tested, and work to overcome seemingly impossible odds. I won’t tell you if he manages to learn something about himself and emerge as a new person at the end. So it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. How does Arlo’s journey stack up? It’s plenty predictable but consistently enjoyable. The characters Arlo meets tend to fall on the side of annoying rather than quirky. You’ve got vultures–excuse me–pterodactyls with hidden agendas, an unhinged Styracosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus Rexes who herd longhorns. None particularly stand out, they’re perfectly serviceable for the needs of the story and that’s as far as it goes. The T. Rexes are the best of the bunch, but even their existence is overshadowed by Pixar’s Finding Nemo. In both Finding Nemo and this film, we expect sharks and T. Rexes to be the bad guys, and our expectations are subverted when they turn out to be helpful to the protagonist. In many ways this film is indeed Finding Nemo, except this time it’s the son Nemo trying to get back to his family rather than the father.
Luckily for the film there’s the feral little caveboy that Arlo is forced to take the journey with. Arlo dubs him Spot in a running gag that compares the caveboy to a pet dog. Spot can’t talk, so in order for the two to communicate, the film finds clever ways of exposition that proves to be one of the better aspects of the movie. In particular, Spot conveying the fate of this family is especially gut wrenching. It’s the moments between Arlo and Spot we feel the heart of the movie truly beating. Their interactions and attempts to keep each other safe keep the film moving forward and cause to become invested in both their fates.
Unfortunately, by the time we get to the movie’s end there are two scenes that aim to tug our heartstrings right out of our chests like a hungry Velociraptor, and although it manages to snag one or two, they miss the majority. We can see what the film aimed for, and want badly for it to succeed, but it’s just not there. There’s still enough to enjoy in The Good Dinosaur, it’ll keep the little ones entertained and the adults won’t mind too much sitting through at least one viewing. When the next list ranking all of Pixar’s movies inevitably emerges, however, The Good Dinosaur will hover closer to the middle or bottom than the top.
I give The Good Dinosaur 3 cowboy dinosaurs out of 5
Score: 3 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor