In a world where dinosaurs never went extinct, they instead evolved into ranchers, wranglers, and rustlers. This is probably Pixar’s oddest film yet.
Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is a young apatosaurus whose family are homesteaders, growing corn in preparation for the winter. Small and easily scared, Arlo doesn’t think he can do anything that will leave a mark on the world or those around him. Then something extremely Disney and tragic happens, plunging him into an outside world full of danger, wonder, and an opportunity to grow and love.
From the get go there is something about this movie that rubs me the wrong way. It’s hard to precisely put a finger on it, but I think it has to do with the subverted role humans play in the story. Referred to as a “critter,” the young boy Arlo encounters is given the name “Spot,” and acts more like a pet dog than anything else. It suggests that people aren’t actually all that special – we just happened to survive longer and grow smarter than other creatures. Maybe I’m overthinking things, but something about this setup bothered be the whole time.
On a less philosophical level, the anachronistic nature of dinosaurs acting like cowboys is just plain weird. More unsettling than amusing, it pulled me out of the movie every time they acted unlike animals – because that’s what they are. I think it would have worked better if they were more anthropomorphized, but they still look like (cartoony) dinosaurs.
The whole film is somewhat unsettling as it feels a bit schizophrenic at times, never really settling into a groove. The other characters go from odd to odder, in ways you wouldn’t expect in a kid’s film, but not necessarily in a good way. The villains include some redneck longhorn rustling raptors, and a group of overly religious cultish Pterodactylus who worship “The Storm” and want to eat Spot for a snack. Arlo also has a run-in with fearfully possessive Styracosaurus with mental issues who is just rather odd in many ways. There are also a few moments that are disturbingly brutal and/or graphic like when a giant beetle gets it head ripped off. Also, if you thought Dumbo would be the last Disney film to have young characters drunk/high/hallucinating, you would be wrong.
One more issue I have with this film is the cartoonish characters – the photo realistic setting is lovely, but it is populated with lumpy cartoon dinosaurs, much like the films of old that mixed hand-drawn animation with live actors to varying degrees of success. Why couldn’t they have made the dinos fit the scenery?
Before it sounds like I’m doing nothing but poo pooing this film, there are plenty of positives. The story has plenty a touching moment with messages about love, family and overcoming fear that are not overly bashed over the audience’s head. It’s also paced well to keep kids’ attention without being frenetic. And like I said, the scenery is gorgeous. For whatever shortcomings I feel the movie has, it looks completely amazing. From a visual standpoint it is a complete masterpiece of genius. I would love to enter the world the animators have so flawlessly and meticulously created. And it looks like I could. No one could be faulted for supposing that this is, in fact, a throwback to those films that populated real settings with animated characters. And if Brave made strides into the world of animated hair, The Good Dinosaur perfects rendered water. Anyone who has played video games or payed attention to cgi in films knows how notoriously hard it is to make water look good. The water here doesn’t just look good, it looks like water we would send pictures of to alien visitors who wanted examples of Earth’s natural wonders at their finest.
Though I may be over thinking it, this movie just didn’t work for me – too many odd issues nagging at my mind the whole time. It is amazing looking though, and above average in terms of an overall film, so I can’t complain too hard.
Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film
My rating: Three out of five hats
The Good Dinosaur stomps into 3.600 theaters, including 3D, November 25.