“The Good Dinosaur” was “good.” While it reached a new high point for brilliant animation and mastered genuine humor independent from obnoxious jokes and over-the-top amusement, I couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated with this movie. Director Peter Sohn seemed to have been inspired to paint this prepossessing canvas for an ensemble of likeable characters and exotic Prehistoric and Middle Age creatures to roam around magnificently but only within the narrow premises of a cliche plot line.
The movie answers the question of what would have happened had the asteroid that killed dinosaurs around 66 million years ago missed the Earth, causing dinosaurs and humans to live together simultaneously in an “alternate timeline” type story. Runt of the litter Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), a sheepish adolescent Apatosaurus, is determined to prove to his parents that he is strong and brave enough to sustain the family’s farm, a feat which is denoted by “making your mark” on the honorable corn silo monument. His two larger siblings — Libby (Maleah Padilla) and Buck (Marcus Scribner) — already have their muddy paws imprinted onto the rock statue, while Arlo, who is fearful of even feeding the chickens, doesn’t seem to be making progress. His hopeful father Henry (Jeffrey Wright) finally loses his cool when Arlo fails to kill the young cave boy, Spot (Jack Bright), who consistently steals their food. He hurriedly leads him to the ravine to hunt down and kill the thief. Along the way, Henry realizes that perhaps Arlo is just not ready for such large tasks and heads back home. Arlo and Spot become a duo and inadvertently make a pact to return Arlo home after a series of unfortunate events.
I appreciated the fact that the movie didn’t try too hard to be funny or create memorable characters. All of the characters were genuine, likeable and complex in the sense that they didn’t follow single-story stereotypes. For example, my favorite characters in the movie were a trio of Western-accented T-Rexes (one of which is the resonant-voiced Sam Elliott) who lost their pack of prehistoric longhorns. When they are initially introduced in the movie, they are portrayed as these mighty, gargantuan creatures that are at least four times larger than Arlo’s father Henry and effortlessly fend off a pack of nefarious pterodactyls. I expected them to follow the formidable characteristics typical of the ascendant tyrannosaurus rex, but they turned out to be a buoyant, light-hearted trio. Aside from the charming characters, I enjoyed the fact that the humor itself avoided being dramatic and overbearing, my favorite scene being an acid trip that Arlo and Spot embark on after accidentally eating some hallucinogenic berries. I was delighted with how unexpected the scene was and the fact that it didn’t rely on extravagant theatrics or violence to be memorable.
Aside from the delightful aspects of “The Good Dinosaur,” I was disappointed that its message traced the blueprint of the overused cliche, “face your fears.” The father Apatosaurus, Henry, even quoted the take-away theme that the entire movie revolved around — “Sometimes you gotta get through your fears to get to the other side.” If you took that single quote and inserted it into about a thousand other children’s movies, it wouldn’t be out of place. With a movie that involved the unlikely and unconventional pairing of a dinosaur and human, I expected Pixar to portray a message that ran deeper than one that has already been used so many times. I was hoping for an ending that dealt with the impractical companionship between two dominant species and further took a shot at humanity’s inflexibility with nature. Instead, I was left with something that I had learned the first time I watched a kid’s movie, and I was sad to interpret the movie as one that I could only describe as “good.”
There was more risk involved in other Pixar movies, more concepts and details that were pleasantly unexpected and had never been explored before. Pixar is a landmark film studio and recently lived up to, if not, surpassed, their usual high standard with “Inside Out,” which bravely asserted that joy cannot exist without sadness and anger and has been highly acclaimed as a movie advanced enough to be relatable for adults yet “fun” and enjoyable for children. Interestingly, “Inside Out” and “The Good Dinosaur” are the first two Pixar movies to ever come out in the same year, but this milestone is unsubstantial considering the fact that Pixar fans must have been gravely disappointed to watch the unoriginal “The Good Dinosaur” following the inventive and inspiring “Inside Out.” Ironically, the fact that “The Good Dinosaur” was nothing more than an “ordinary” kids movie made it quite “extraordinary” for Pixar.
As much as I tried to like “The Good Dinosaur,” it turned out to be an unadventurous kids movie that was not quite brave enough to explore new areas and dishearteningly left my deficient stomach empty.
Rating: 3 stars