Earlier this year, Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios released its fifteenth feature length film, “Inside Out,” and it was a box office success, becoming Pixar’s second biggest opening and grossing film. Now, the studio that brought us “Toy Story” twenty years ago this month releases its sixteenth film, “The Good Dinosaur.” Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is a meek and timid Apatosaurus who lives with his Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright), Momma Ida (Frances McDormand), and siblings Libby (Maleah Padilla) and Buck (Marcus Scribner) in a time when Earth is flourishing due to being spared by an asteroid collision. It’s a story about fighting through fears to reach the beauty of what’s on the other side, finding a voice, and making a mark that will be forever lasting. And in true Pixar form, “The Good Dinosaur” may be everlasting, though it does unfortunately fall short of the studios’ best.
The main plot of the film is rather simple. When Arlo is tasked with ridding his family’s farm of a pesky critter that keeps eating their corn, he missteps and gets washed away in a river. Now far from home, Arlo must conquer his fears of the world around him and brave the incredible journey to find his family once more. On his journey he makes friends with the very same critter that was sneaking about his farm, a little human boy named Spot (Jack Bright). The two eventually form a bond and learn that though they are starkly different, they share a key similarity which deeply connects them.
“The Good Dinosaur” seems comprised of bits and pieces of other films; it’s a little “How to Train Your Dragon,” a dash of “The Land Before Time,” and a mix of “Brother Bear” and “Finding Nemo” all sewn into one. While the theme of a prehistoric earth meshed with present day advancements such as farming and herding is inventive, the spool of similarities to a plethora of other films takes away from the overall enjoyment “The Good Dinosaur” had the capabilities of containing. However, what saves the somewhat recycled plot is the forbidden friendship (that’s also somewhat recycled via “How to Train Your Dragon”) between Arlo and Spot. They become reliant upon each other and their relationship evolves as the story progresses, ending in a heart wrenching reality of where they both come from.
Arlo and Spot are deservedly so the stars of the film, but what is perhaps missing is the plethora of other quirky and endearing characters. There’s a family of Tyrannosaurus’ consisting of Butch (Sam Elliott), Ramsey (Anna Paquin) and Nash (A.J. Buckley) who run a longhorn ranch, but their personalities seem a bit too stereotypical to be taken seriously enough. Though they do teach Arlo a lesson about bravery and facing fears, and prove that outward appearances don’t always mirror what’s on the inside, they’re forgetful in the repertoire of character of Pixar’s past. There’s also villainy in a group of Pterodactyls named Thunderclap (Steve Zahn), Downpour (Mandy Freund) and Coldfront (Steven Clay), but again are too generic and forgettable. And aside from that, there’s little character that matters throughout, making this lush earth that was permitted life longer than it was meant seem uninhabited.
But that lush earth was done up magically. Seeming real in parts, it’s hard to believe this was an animated movie. The clouds roll by, casting shadows and filtering sunlight onto the earth below; the light refracts off of the dancing pools of the flowing river, distorting the image below the surface as though an actual river was rushing by; and the leaves are crispy and the wood is gritty like genuine forest timber. Visually, this unaltered earth and terrain thrives in its animation, making “The Good Dinosaur” a spectacle in a breathtakingly stunning way.
Overall, “The Good Dinosaur” brings some great character in Arlo and Spot, and their seemingly forbidden connection is warming to witness. Their howling at the moon together, camaraderie and growing friendship is what this film wins with. What they experience together and eventually mean to each other proves that fears are nothing but a pesky obstacle that can and will be overcome because in the end, the prize is worth it. Though uninhabited in parts and lacking any true life in its other characters, “The Good Dinosaur” still elicits the feeling Pixar is known for. It lands smack dab in the middle in terms of Pixar films in this unofficial ranking, but its fearless friendship and fun still makes it prehistorically good.
Final grade? B
Pixar’s the gift that just keeps giving, with a docket prepared for the next five years. The most anticipated among them is 2016’s “Finding Dory,” sequel to the 2004 hit “Finding Nemo,” starring Ellen DeGenres as the forgetful and lovable blue tang. The studio also has a few other sequels in the works, including “Cars 3,” “Toy Story 4,” and “The Incredibles 2,” as well as another original title, “Coco,” all slated for release between 2017 and 2020.