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The Good Dinosaur (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 28, 2020



Featuring the voices of  Raymond Ochoa, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Elliott, Maleah Nipay-Padilla, Ryan Teeple, Jack McGraw, Marcus Scribner, Jack Bright, A.J. Buckley, Anna Paquin, Peter Sohn, Steve Zahn, Mandy Freund, Steven Clay Hunter, Dave Boat, Carrie Paff, Calum Mackenzie Grant and John Ratzenberger.

Screenplay by Meg LeFauve.

Directed by Peter Sohn.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  93 minutes.  Rated PG.

After nearly 20 years of making acclaimed animated hit films, this year was the first time the Disney’s (mostly) beloved Pixar unit did something very specific.  For the first time, they released two major movies into theaters in the same year.

The first one to get release was Inside Out, which turned out to be the division’s biggest hit and most acclaimed film in a few years, perhaps since Up! Inside Out was smart, inventive, a bit subversive and could be enjoyed equally (but on different levels) by adults and children.

The Good Dinosaur had the bad luck to become the “other” Pixar movie of the year, barely making a ripple when it was released to multiplexes.  Which does not necessarily mean that The Good Dinosaur was a bad film, it just got lost.

Perhaps it was even to a certain extent the film’s fault.  While Inside Out pushed boundaries and looked at life from odd angles, The Good Dinosaur was very much traditional Disney kiddie fare.  In fact, the basic storyline is straight from the family film playbook: Young runt of the litter who is afraid of everything witnesses a beloved parent’s death, gets separated from the rest of his family and must find the courage to make his way home on a long, dangerous quest with an unusual and unexpected new friend.

The Good Dinosaur is much more earnest than Inside Out, much less snarky, and more specifically geared towards a younger audience.  However, it works on a great many levels within its own boundaries, as a buddy film, a quest and an action film.

The Good Dinosaur takes place in a slightly alternate universe, looking at a world where the comet which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs missed the Earth, leaving them to live on for many millions of years and share the Earth with humans.  This conceit is not quite as brave as it could be, because the film is still set many, many years in the past, around the time of the dawn of man.  Can you imagine how cool a movie about man and dinosaurs trying to coexist in the current civilized world would be?

However, we’ll give the filmmaker their conceit and look at the story as they have created it.  Apparently in the years between the near-miss asteroid and the dawn of man, dinosaurs learn to speak English, make crude buildings, farm and ranch, while humans are still feral, don’t speak and their actions mostly resemble dogs.

Arlo is the smallest and shyest child in a dinosaur farming family.  The parents and his brother and sister are all excellent farmers, but he has not yet found his way to make his mark.  While trying to track down a small creature who has been stealing the family’s food – which turns out to be a feral child – Arlo’s father is washed away in a river flood caused by a huge storm.

Arlo is determined to capture the creature, only to be washed away himself.  He and the feral child end up lost miles from home, and form a tense alliance and eventual friendship while braving dangers on the trek back.

Like, I said, it’s a pretty traditional family storyline, charmingly put together, often quite exciting, but sometimes a bit bland.  Even when The Good Dinosaur lets its freak flag fly – for example in a very short sequence where the hero mistakenly eats some psychedelic berries and starts hallucinating – it feels cut off from the story at large and under-explored.

Still, The Good Dinosaur did not deserve the extinction that it received in the movie houses.  Now that it has made it to video, it would not be at all surprising if it becomes a favorite of appreciative younger children worldwide.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: February 23, 2016.

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