Delayed by story and personnel problems, Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur represents the first time the now-legendary animation studio has released two films in one calendar year. Forget that this cannot possibly live up to the standards of its June release, Inside Out (what could?), the screenplay by Meg LeFauve just doesn’t pop. You certainly could see the potential in this story of a young dino (reminding me of Dino, the pet dinosaur in The Flintstones) adrift in the world and trying to find his way home, but it seems like very familiar stuff as it rolls out. Of course, as I say in my video review (click the link above), it won’t really matter to kids — particularly very young ones who can’t get enough of these prehistoric creatures. Parents, however, should be warned that there are issues of separation and death of parental figures that could be disturbing to the littlest members of the family, but ultimately the message of family above all resonates and should satisfy. Compared to Jurassic World, this is soft stuff indeed.
The basic premise asks the question of what might have happened had dinosaurs not been wiped off the planet but actually survived. What struck me, though, was how serious this all seems. It’s got very few comic highlights and could have used more. Instead, there are some dark scenes and sadness as Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), the awkward young dinosaur, is separated from his mother and siblings after his father unexpectedly dies. Alone in the world, he finally comes upon a wild child he names Spot (Jack Bright). The kid, though human, is basically like a dog to Arlo. The bulk of screen time is like a road movie as the pair try to find their way home and along the way meet some onerous creatures, as well as some nice ones like the T-Rex with a Texas twang (voiced unmistakably by Sam Elliott).
It’s simple stuff we’ve seen before, though Pixar being Pixar it does have scenes mixed in that are nicely twisted and bizarre, giving the movie much-needed life and humor — just not enough to keep adults as enthralled as the kids. The well-chosen voice cast also includes Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Zahn and Anna Paquin. What’s really outstanding are some stunning animated visuals that help make The Good Dinosaur exciting and nice to look at. Director Peter Sohn has made sure, at least in this department, that the film can measure up to past Pixar product. The problem is, those past films are such classics that this one, while perfectly entertaining in its own right, disappoints on the level we have come to expect. Still, a middling Pixar movie is better than nearly every other toon out there.
Denise Ream produced, and Pixar/Disney power trio John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich and Andrew Stanton were executive producers. Disney opens the film today. Do you plan to see The Good Dinosaur? Let us know what you — and your kids — think.