ALL IT TAKES IS ONE GOOD DINOSAUR TO CHANGE THE WORLD 6.5/10
What if the meteorite that hit the Earth 65 million years ago had swung a little bit north instead? If that was the case then earliest man would have walked side by side with the dinosaurs. This simple ‘what if?’ forms the founding premise of Pixar’s latest offering, The Good Dinosaur. Like the rest of their very charming repertoire, the film tells the story of a loveable character that must go on a great journey in order to learn a little something about himself. This time the adventurer is a frightened young dinosaur named, Arlo. The smallest of his litter, Arlo loses his father to a river swell during a storm, later he himself is lost to the river while trying to chase a feral human child off of the family farm. Yes, Dinosaurs have farms in this film… just go with it. Arlo and the human child end up stranded far from home and together they undertake an arduous journey to get back.
The Good Dinosaur isn’t Pixar’s best film and it certainly isn’t its most original, borrowing a bit too heavily from the Lion King and The Croods, but it is a deeply charming and enjoyable experience. This is mostly due to the very warm relationship that develops between Arlo and his pet human, brilliantly named Spot. We see the pair grow closer, first through necessity, then through loneliness and finally simply because they enjoy being together. One particularly touching moment involves Arlo explaining the concept of family to Spot using stick figures, only for them to discover that they have both experienced the pain of losing a parent. They also share a lot of enjoyable moments including a run amongst a field full of glow bugs and a fruit induced, psychedelic trip. But it is their trials and tribulations that really bring the two together.
Arlo suffers an awful lot throughout the film, both physically and emotionally and at times it can feel like an animated version of The Revenant. The storm is as a constant source of terror for him, serving as a reminder of the death of his father and also as a grave physical threat. But it also brings danger for Arlo and Spot in the form of a group of vicious pterodactyls who follow the storm picking off the wounded creatures left in its wake. The Pterodactyls function as reasonable antagonists for Arlo and Spot and they offer some cool visuals with their tail fins cutting through the clouds like inverted sharks. The pair encounters many colourful characters on their journey back to the farm including a very spaced out Triceratops and some prehistoric gophers, but none make as strong an impression as the family of T-Rex cowboys. Once again… Just go with it.
It is Arlo and Spot’s time with the T-Rexes that forms the most enjoyable part of the film and also gives The Good Dinosaur a chance to prove that it can be original. T-Rexes have traditionally served as the villains in films like Dinosaur and The Land Before Time, but here they are brilliantly portrayed as prairie heroes, tough but good hearted. This characterisation is made even more effective by the casting of the eternal movie Cowboy, Sam Elliot, as the voice of the elder Rex. Arlo and Spot help the T-Rexes to retrieve their buffalo herd from some rustlin’ velociraptors (of course there has to be velociraptors) in one of the film’s most entertaining set pieces. However, before his adventures are over Arlo will need to confront his greatest fear and discover the true meaning of family.
The Good Dinosaur is a film about believing in yourself and others, a theme that it shares with Up, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Toy Story and pretty much every other Pixar film. It does take a lot of its cues from those films, but whereas last year’s Inside Out managed to make that formula feel fresh this film often feels far too familiar. Visually, The Good Dinosaur stands head and shoulders above every other Pixar film; despite the overly cartoonish appearance of the main characters the background environments look so realistic you often find yourself wondering if they are real. The character design was a bit jarring at first as Arlo felt out of place against such rich textures, but it is easy to forgive this as he is so very loveable. Pixar have made a lot of amazing films over the years, but for every Toy Story there is a Cars; The Good Dinosaur sits somewhere in the middle, it may be totally forgettable but it’s also a fun film that Kids will absolutely love and that’s as good a mark to leave as any.
POINTS OF INTEREST
- The T-Rex cowboys really did steal the show, I absolutely loved the way it looked like they were riding horses when they ran, plus Sam Elliott has such a wonderful voice.
- While we are on the Rexes, am I the only one who would like to see them get their own straight to DVD movie?
- The Walking Dead’s Melissa McBride provides the voice of Arlo’s mother. She may ask Arlo to help with the crops but hopefully she won’t ask him to look at the flowers!!!
- Good to see John Ratzenberger make his obligatory appearance as Earl the Velociraptor, keep an ear out for his unmistakable voice.