Imagine if the asteroid that hit Earth and caused the extinction of dinosaurs millions of years ago simply skimmed past our planet and life continued the way it was. Earth would have been a completely different planet, and even though Pixar used this idea for their latest animated adventure, The Good Dinosaur, they make an unexciting attempt to conceive a remarkable story.
The Good Dinosaur sets up dinosaurs as now civilised animals, where a family of Apatosauruses are farmers in their little section of land near a river. The youngest dinosaur in the family, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) lacks purpose and fears everything. After he is knocked into the river and hauled far away from home, he befriends a feral caveboy, Spot (Jack Bright) and together, they make their way home, discovering themselves and conquering their limitations.
The idea of the dinosaurs continuing to live is intriguing, and The Good Dinosaur evokes this by reversing the assumed traits of the dinosaurs and humans. The dinosaurs have human characteristics, performing tasks like farming and owning a ranch whilst the boy hunts savagely for food. It is an interesting dynamic but that that is as complex as The Good Dinosaur gets, preferring to keep things light and nimble, never delving into anything that threatens its pure narrative of conquering your fears and finding friendship. Its purity should make it all the more heart-warming, but it still feels quite bland. One cannot help but notice its similarity to the animated classic The Lion King, a film so narratively wholesome in its meaning that The Good Dinosaur hopelessly strives to replicate. From the savannah/jungle look, blood orange sunsets, animal integration, parental tragedy and fleeting rebirth, like Mufasa, The Good Dinosaur aimed for greatness, but fell short in its imitation of it. Unlike 2015’s other animated successes, The Good Dinosaur comes across shy, never reaching the complexity of Inside Out or the raging fun that is the Minions, and could have done with a bit more of what the others evoked.
Its themes of family and overcoming your fears are as universal as you can get, giving The Good Dinosaur a dimension of familiarity that damages its novelty. Leaving the comfort of home in order to discover one’s self is what, unsurprisingly, The Good Dinosaur aims to investigate, yet surprisingly the film kicks-off quite miserably, failing to develop an interesting set of characters, backdrop or motivations. However, once Arlo gets hauled away from the tedious confines of his domesticity, The Good Dinosaur descends into a cute, warming tale of unlikely friendship. At first, Arlo and the caveboy, Spot, cannot connect, but soon they break down barriers and bond adorably, helped by the memorable image of a petite Spot sitting atop the majestic green dinosaur. Some moments are so heart-warming, it may bring a tear to the eye and their relationship seems just worthwhile enough to satisfy audiences.
Without a doubt, the adventurous animation on show is The Good Dinosaur’s saving grace. From the wonderful firefly scene, to the magnificent flora and fauna, as well as the striking climate, The Good Dinosaur thrives visually due to the plain magnitude of its setting. And the setting is key in giving The Good Dinosaur a pure sense of sprawling adventure. Arlo and Spot essentially embark on a cross-country escapade through different terrains, coming upon both interesting and cardboard creatures. Their diversity ranges from pterodactyls to a snake with hands, but, unoriginally, provides the T-Rex’s with the most screen time. This being said, they do elevate the film a tad in terms of humour, but with the endless potential of the whole world to utilise, the Good Dinosaur safely makes its mark.
As The Good Dinosaur comes full circle, it concludes its ordinariness pretty satisfyingly. Everything comes together well; the stunning imagery and light story climax as one, generating a substantial dose of emotion, a bit overdue. And at the end one could be forgiven if they thought The Good Dinosaur transitioned, ever so seamlessly, into The Croods!
For Pixar, The Good Dinosaur appears a bit too simple for them, resembling more traditional Disney territory. It seems to be caught in the middle, not at the level of Disney’s enriching of a simple tale, yet utterly below what Pixar normally produces in terms of challenging animation. The Good Dinosaur is good old-fashioned animation that doesn’t test itself; kids want to be awestruck, but, in the cinema, kids were shuffling about and moving seats, so The Good Dinosaur hasn’t provide something original to feast on, it merely reaffirmed, pretty feebly, what family-friendly entertainment has to offer.
The Good Dinosaur may feature some gorgeous animation and sweet characterisations, but the lack of life in its conception restricts its unbridled potential.