2015 marks the first time that Pixar will release two films. They have already released the highly acclaimed Inside Out earlier this year. Their next film for Thanksgiving weekend will be The Good Dinosaur. While crazy productions for animated films are by no means a rare thing, The Good Dinosaur has made a ruckus within Pixar’s walls with many troubles that plagued the film since the official announcement made back in 2011…for a 2013 release. However, not only did the film get a delay to 2015, but there was a widely publicized shift in cast and crew. The original director Bob Peterson dropped and his fellow story developer, Peter Sohn, took over (inadvertently making him the first non-white director of a Pixar film), and most of the cast was completely changed. Obviously, it’s not the best sign for a film, and the fact that the film is kind of dropped in late November with nowhere near as much fanfare (from a marketing perspective) to get people excited to see it.
The film follows a young, fearful and nervous dinosaur named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) and his family, who essentially run a farm together. However, after a terrible incident occurs, Arlo becomes separated from his family and is forced to face the dangers of the wild. However, he bumps into a strange critter he names Spot (Jack Bright). Together they go on an adventure to make it back home, all while Arlo tries to deal with his fears.
The Good Dinosaur is definitely a good movie. It’s in that weird zone where Brave also resides, in that it’s not quite up to the almost comically high standard set by Pixar, but on its own terms, it is a good, and at times great film. It makes use of the very familiar Pixar formula of two characters who shouldn’t be together, but are forced to because of circumstances beyond their control, resulting in a big journey of self-discovery or growth. In this film, Arlo is forced to work with Spot in order to tread dangerous ground and get home and they develop a friendship over the course of the film. In the beginning, their relationship isn’t on the best terms and as they begin to work together to survive, they get the opportunity to understand each other (and without the ability to speak with each other).
Even though the film on a whole is really nothing amazing or special, it does have plenty of moments where it really hits those high peaks of emotional resonance that we’ve come to expect from Pixar. One scene in particular is when Arlo attempts to communicate with Spot. Despite, not being able to actually talk to each other, they are able to get across both of their stories and it builds to a genuinely moving and emotional moment. It’s in these moments where it delves into the thematic core of the film, which revolves around dealing with loss and trauma, as well as learning to handle fears. An important message involves learning that you can’t get rid of fear, you can only take control of it. It’s handled very well, and it allows the film to hit in those prime moments where it really counts. There’s a number of moments like this and they really elevate the film above from being a mediocre outing.
One thing I didn’t expect about the film that came as a pleasant surprise is that it’s basically a western. At least, it becomes a western after the first 20 minutes when it’s just Days of Heaven with dinosaurs. The world created by the filmmakers is a very interesting one, even if on further thought, it doesn’t serve a lot of bigger in-universe functionality. But after the first act, the film becomes takes a lot of appropriate western tropes in it’s storytelling, and it is even reflected in the great score by Mychael and Jeff Danna. Arlo and Spot even bump into the world’s equivalent of cowboys, which are a family of T-Rex (Sam Elliot is the perfectly cast voice of Butch, the patriarch of the family).
Really, when you break a lot of things down, The Good Dinosaur is a very strange film. Not only is it the sudden genre-bending that is occurring, but there are some strange tonal mismatches and some bizarre moments. For example, there is a drug tripping sequence. It’s out of nowhere and it goes just as quickly as it come, but it’s stuff like that which give the film it’s own strange little identity. The only time when it becomes a problem is when the film keeps switching between the characters dealing with the harshness of nature and them getting out of situations in ways that feels unrealistic and a little too clean.
However, as much as I could complain about some story choices, I have basically nothing but praise for the animation. Conflicting design with the characters to the environment aside, the details and textures are mind-blowing. The environment is probably the most photorealistic animation I’ve ever seen. I try not to get too impressed with this because 3D animation can only get better with technology, but every couple minutes, there’s a shot worthy of having saving and setting it up as a screensaver. It may not fully take advantage of the premise of the asteroid passing Earth, it’s ambitions are much more modest especially in comparison to something like Inside Out, which I feel like this will be unfairly compared with.
The Good Dinosaur is a perfectly fine film and it’s unfortunate timing that it came out right after Pixar hit a homerun with Inside Out just a few months ago. There’s no argument that it’s not as good, but it doesn’t matter because The Good Dinosaur works on its own terms. It’s an earnest and heartfelt adventure with two really likable main characters and some fun quirks that keep the film interesting and engaging enough. It’s technically well-accomplished and it has enough emotion to carry the runtime. And hey, it’s a hell of a lot better than that last dinosaur movie that came out this year. Also, the short that plays before this is called Sanjay’s Super Team, and it’s easily one of the best shorts to come from Pixar. 70 / 100