The least anticipated Pixar release since Cars 2, The Good Dinosaur comes out the other end of many delays and a troubled development (director Sohn replaced Up’s Bob Peterson) a sweet and charming family romp. Despite it being a mash-up of familiar stories, the jaw-dropping background scenery has raised the bar for animation.
65 million years ago a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs but what The Good Dinosaur presupposes is… maybe it didn’t? The meteor missed and dinosaurs evolved into farmers (and can talk, but we assume that’s because it’s an animated film). The runt of the litter, weakling Arlo (Ochoa), is a brontosaurus encouraged by his Atticus Finch-esque father (Wright) to make his mark in life just like his siblings. Arlo gets his chance when he is swept away in a tidal flood and, stranded and facing a long trek back home alone, is befriended by a mute Neanderthal boy (coincidently the image of Zac Efron) who knows a thing or two the dangerous wilderness…
The animation, especially the movement of the water, is outstanding (if you have to google it after to make sure they dinos weren’t superimposed on real footage you’re in good company). It’s so good in fact the characters look a little ropey stomping around in front of spectacular backgrounds.
Unfortunately the story doesn’t match the visuals for brilliance. Lacking the typical Pixar wit and invention, The Good Dinosaur feels rather safe and ordinary and little for the adults to enjoy (maybe the opposite could be said for Inside Out, with a lot of the nuance going over children’s heads). The lifts from other movies are rather obvious with nods to The Jungle Book, The Lion King, The Incredible Journey and any number of Westerns.
Giving the human boy, who scurries about on all fours, dog-like attributes is not a good joke; having him respond to Spot even less so. There are better gags to be had, like the depressed triceratops that collects pets that perch on his horns, one of the many characters that pop up on the journey home – Sam Elliot’s T-Rex, Pixar mascot John Ratzenberger’s buffalo-rustling velociraptor among them.
It doesn’t surprise like Pixar’s best and doesn’t pretend to appeal to anyone but young ‘uns, but, true to form, the story comes up with some tender scenes (Arlo and Spot connect wordlessly over a shared traumatic past) and the animation has to be seen to be believed.
And it’s better than Cars 2.