A meteor hurtles towards prehistoric earth while dinosaurs munch on grass and trees. We expect the inevitable, yet in a twist of fate the comet brushes past our atmosphere, sparing those giant lizards: and so the concept of The Good Dinosaur is introduced – what would happen if humans and dinosaurs coexisted? It’s a simple idea filed with potential just like all the Pixar films before it, as Arlo the apatosaurus and Spot the human trek the western landscape with some bumps along the way.
And boy what a landscape it is: even from the opening shots of water streams and the individual blades of grass, you can see just how far the animation at Pixar has come. The highly defined wilderness is by far the film’s best feature, as the impressive visuals of the world tip toe among the realism found in wildlife photography. Mychael and Jeff Danna’s score is at its best in these moments, with a cowboy orchestra to accompany the open western road for our heroes. The animals of The Good Dinosaur still retain a cartoon bubbliness which jars with the world they inhabit, but even their movements demonstrate the artistic might of the lampshade-logoed studio.
But this just makes it a greater shame when the plot fails to keep up to that Pixar standard which the animation does. Gems are littered throughout the film here and there; the ‘sky-sharks’ scene on the mountain, or the scene where Arlo and Spot overcome the barrier of language to discuss family comes to mind. In between these moments however, are the scenes that disrupt the pacing of the flick severely. One obvious example that comes to mind is when the two heroes take an acid trip from rotten peaches halfway through the film, it’s odd, unnecessary and tonally askew to the rest of the film. The premise also stands on weak legs, much like Arlo, as the films titters between a Jurassic Jungle Book and a western Homeward Bound (the dinosaurs farm, yet we’re not sure if that’s evolution or anthropomorphism). Characters enter the film with wonderful promise (especially the memorable Tyrannosaurs Ranchers), only to fall on the wayside as quickly as they arrive. While Arlo’s fight with fear helps give the film some direction, the abundance of ideas from ghosts to veloci-rustlers take the film off course and make the bigger picture feel unfocused.
This doesn’t mean the gems that are within in the film are tarnished though. Even on their own, these few scenes (trust me, you’ll know them) have the gravity and sophistication to pluck the heart strings that are intrinsic to all good Disney films. It’s almost a shame we had two Pixar films this year, as it’s impossible not to compare Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. Sure, Inside Out had a far more complex world to define, a harder pitch to pull off, and more balls to juggle (quite literally at some points)… yet the film still feels more refined than the basic building blocks within The Good Dinosaur. I know this film has gone through years of revisions already (and dozens of rewrites too), but perhaps another year could have crafted a film more realised without the hectic enthusiasm we have now. Kids may love dinosaurs, but they may simply just like these ones.
Directed by Peter Sohn
Written by; Peter Sohn
Starring; Raymond Ochoa, Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin
Runtime: 100 mins.