Inside Out was a hard movie to follow. After not releasing any movies at all in 2014, two movies hit in 2015 from Pixar. The first was the amazing Inside Out, a movie that has more depth than just about anything you will ever see in an animated movie geared towards kids. After that, we have The Good Dinosaur, which is on the complete other end of the spectrum, but was still a solid movie that remains a step above the rest.
Sadly, it was not near the brilliance of Inside Out, and with the two movies hitting in the same year, that is what it will always be judged against. Plus, as a Pixar movie, so it has a huge hill to climb when it comes to recognition. When based on its own merits, as all movies should, The Good Dinosaur is a good movie. When compared to other Pixar efforts, it leaves a bit to be desired, nowhere near the level of Inside Out, Up, Wall-E, and the Toy Story movies.
The Good Dinosaur is based on an interesting premise. What if the asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs actually missed the earth and the dinosaurs lived? Of course, if they lived, then they would have evolved as all creatures have over time and this movie has the dinosaurs a million years after they were supposed to have gone extinct, learning to live on their own.
Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the good dinosaur of the title, the runt of three kids born to farming dinosaurs (Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand). His brother Buck is strong and his sister Libby is fast. They work to help their parents farm the land, watering and planting the crops, while Arlo is kept feeding the chickens, who are very aggressive towards the frightened young dinosaur. That is the road that Arlo must take in this movie – conquering his own fears.
Sadly, this movie also plays on the themes of Bambi and The Lion King, as Arlo is responsible for the death of his father when he refuses to kill a creature that is stealing their food. That creature is a primitive caveperson – a small child that Arlo eventually names Spot. Because he won’t kill Spot, his father takes him out after the child and then his father falls into the sweeping river as a storm rages through.
Shortly after his father dies, Arlo tries to get vengeance on Spot, who he blames for his father’s death, and ends up in the river as well, swept downstream and away from his home. From this point on, the movie turns into a road trip movie, with Arlo and Spot teaming up to find their way back home. Along the way, they meet both friends (highlighted by the awesome Sam Elliott voiced Butch the Dinosaur) and enemies (with Steve Zahn’s Thunderclap the highlight).
The movie is impressively well done, which is no surprise for Pixar. It has been said that water is one of the hardest things to animate properly, and with Finding Nemo allowing Pixar to perfect it, The Good Dinosaur has some of the most breathtaking animated water I have seen in a movie. With parts of the film taking place in and under water, it looks spectacular. This was Peter Sohn’s first directorial feature effort, and he did a great job which is no surprise after his very impressive short film, Partly Cloudy.
The biggest problem though, and what really pulls the movie down, is the simplistic script. Pixar has proven that they can make great movies of people lost who want to find their way back home. Finding Nemo is a great example as is Up and Toy Story 3. However, those movies had such a huge heart and that was thanks to a dense and impressive story that led the characters away from home and back again.
The biggest problem here was the same problem that plagued Brave. Pixar was not happy with The Good Dinosaur, which was originally slated for a 2014 release. Because of this, Pixar removed Bob Peterson (Up) from the director’s chair and replaced him with Sohn. However, is might not have been the directing that was the problem, but the simplistic script. Honestly, The Good Dinosaur went from one situation to the next, added in some wacky people to meet, and then moved the characters on to the next situation.
This is not the type of story that made Pixar movies so special.
What saved the movie – partially – was the first of the endings. See, this was the story of Arlo trying to find his way home, but at the same time, it was also the story of Spot finding his place in the world as well. The problem is that, for most of the movie, Spot was used as comic relief. That made the fact that Spot’s resolution was much more deeply touching than Arlo’s troubling. After Spot learned what his place in the world entailed, it made Arlo’s resolution seem like an afterthought and it just didn’t carry the same emotion or meaning as it should have.
There were a lot of things to like about The Good Dinosaur, from the amazing animation, the touching moments concerning Arlo and his dad, and the final revel of Spot’s place in the world. It just could have been so much more. As is, this is a very good animated movie, but a lesser Pixar effort.