'The Good Dinosaur' charms with stunning visuals
December 9, 2015
After the stellar reviews Pixar received from the release of Inside Out, their next major release The Good Dinosaur has arrived, a work that has taken a long time to come here, and still feels like it could be better.
Imagine a timeline where the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs never occurred. That is the set-up to allow this story to be told, of a family of dinosaurs that exist five million years before our time. There’s a father, mother, and three kids, all working on a primitive farm so that they can survive. But one child, Arlo, is having trouble every day trying to do the best work he can.
Fear is Arlo’s biggest obstacle, for with looming white mountains and dangerous critters about, he’d rather stick close to his parents than face this world. But through a series of events he becomes lost when a river takes him away, and one of the critters he once hated, a young caveboy he names Spot, is going to have to be his guide back home. Along the way, Arlo must face predators, experienced farmer dinosaurs, and the odd land beyond his home to come back and try to be worth something to his family.
A plot like this can seem deceptively simple, and in this case, that assumption can be entirely right. This is a very simple film. But its simplicity goes towards its strengths and weaknesses.
One thing that should be clarified is that The Good Dinosaur has been in development for six years total. I heard of this film when I was in the ninth grade in high school and wondered why it took so long to make. Reasons for this were discovered online as I found this film was plagued with its director losing creative steam, the script being scrapped and rewrote, and almost all of the original actors being tossed out for new ones to fit the new plot.
Considering all the craziness that went behind scenes, it’s any wonder the film even got made. But here it is today, and for what it is worth, it is an adequate addition to the cannon of Pixar, though sadly contains problems.
For its good parts, it definitely knows how to create a world that you can marvel at and take seriously. Some people might be put off by the cartoonish designs of the characters, but it actually works to a degree. Emotions can come through a lot better and connect with younger audiences. The Good Dinosaur does this well.
Another thing it does well is background and world design. The Good Dinosaur features some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen in a Pixar film. Given that the production wanted to make nature the villain in this film it becomes clearer as to why everything is so nicely rendered. Every drop of rain, leaf in the grass, and cloud looks gorgeous and awe-inspiring. The staff really must be commended for what they did here.
But the prettiness aside, this Pixar film in particular is lacking heavily in the story department. The Good Dinosaur is not bad, but everyone has seen it before. We’ve seen the boy and his dog story, we’ve seen the journey home story, we’ve seen misfits becoming friend stories, and we’ve seen coming of age movies. Many of the elements to this film’s story have been seen elsewhere, and it makes the film slightly disappointing when you consider all the things that Pixar can do with both animation and storytelling together.
Along with some other odd design choices, like some wild-west elements thrown into the world, the time it took to make this film speaks volumes as to how it got this way. Perhaps The Good Dinosaur is a testament to not bite off more than you can chew when releasing two Pixar films in one year, or maybe it’s just a lesson that not everything is going to go well in six years’ time.
But for what it’s worth, The Good Dinosaur is still something I can recommend. It’s got some touching moments, and some serious ones that can be important for anyone, even children, to watch, and while it won’t go down as Pixar’s best, it is at least able to go down in some people’s hearts.
Ryan Funes is a lover of all things movie, TV, video games and stories and wants to become a television writer someday. In his spare time he enjoys hanging with friends, tapping into his imagination, and watching cartoons of all kinds.