Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: The Good Dinosaur

by Adam Riske
Unfortunately it’s not very good.

I wanted to enjoy The Good Dinosaur but I just couldn’t. While not without some positive elements, Pixar’s latest is ultimately forgettable, especially on the heels of their brilliant effort from earlier this year, Inside Out. Whereas that movie was filled with rich themes and beautiful animation, The Good Dinosaur can only claim the latter. This is a gorgeous looking animated movie. It’s sad that the story it illustrates is so shopworn and undercooked. It’s like they took The Land Before Time, An American Tail and The Lion King, put them in a blender and served.
The Good Dinosaur was plagued with delays and production issues and it comes across as the first Pixar movie where the studio seems to be punting. I could be wrong, but it just has an air of a movie that the studio is glad is finally behind them. I was hoping that Pixar would be able to pull this one off, but The Good Dinosaur is merely a simple story, clumsily told and it has a blandness nowhere to be found in Pixar’s best movies.

The plot in brief: The Good Dinosaur posits the scenario in which the asteroid that struck Earth and caused the extinction of dinosaurs missed the planet and life continued for the species. We follow an Apatosaurus named Arlo who is separated from his family and along the way makes an unlikely friend in a feral human boy he names Spot. While searching for his way home, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears.
One issue I had with The Good Dinosaur is that the characters are uninspired. Arlo is someone I cared about because he’s portrayed as a helpless and sweet kid, but he’s sort of a passive participant in his own story for much of the movie. I often just felt sort of bad for him. Spot is cute but also a bit one-note, although the “boy and his dog” twist of it being a dinosaur with a pet human is inspired, if more in theory than in execution. The rest of the characters, including a scary, threatening pack of pterodactyls and a pride of cowboy T-Rexes, are more bizarre than entertaining and the other Apatosauruses in Arlo’s family have very little “personality” other than that his father seems to have taken lessons from Mufasa from The Lion King.

The themes are also underdeveloped. The Good Dinosaur is mostly about responsibility, making your mark and overcoming fear (since Arlo is a dinosaur that is afraid of almost everything). However, the movie oddly never really explores why Arlo is afraid and just comes to a pat conclusion that everyone is at least a little afraid and it’s something you have to get through. I think the filmmakers missed an opportunity to really explore fear as a theme in this movie. If Arlo were afraid because of a fear of failure or fear of the unknown, that could have been explored in an interesting way for a kids film, but in its current state there is very little there other than a base interpretation.
It’s not all bad, though. As I mentioned before, the movie is very striking visually; it's always colorful and with some of the best background animation compositions I’ve ever seen in an animated movie. The trees, fields, landscapes and rivers look photo-realistic, so much that I’m in absolute awe of the skill on display of Pixar’s animators. Simply put, the animation (outside of the characters who are deliberately cartoony) doesn’t even look like animation. My favorite detail is how the rain and water looks on the dinosaurs’ skin. It’s incredible. There is also one great scene (played without dialogue) where Arlo and Spot show each other their family histories. I wish there were more scenes in the movie like this one.

Watching subpar Pixar bothers me more than most other movies because it’s so disappointing considering what the brand normally represents. Not since Brave have I been this letdown by a Pixar movie. Despite being a kind film and featuring a likeable, sweet and simple lead character in Arlo, the movie just isn’t very moving or even entertaining. It sort of meanders from scene to scene with a draggy energy, making the short run time feel long. I also don’t think the movie is good for young kids, since it’s sort of dark and bizarre in tone by the usual Pixar standards (e.g. there’s a scene where a bug has its head ripped off, another where Arlo and Spot are hallucinating on psychedelic berries and one where a dinosaur eats another animal). What a mess.


  1. I'm disappointed this is disappointing.

    I'm glad you liked the art style. I've been shocked by the number of negative comments I've read about the design of the dinosaurs. I think they're adorable.

    1. I didn't hate the design of the dinosaurs, but I found their cartoony appearance distracting set against the photo realistic backgrounds. On their own I think they're cute.

  2. My 4 year old liked it and wants to watch it again, but his taste is sooooooo pedestrian. He is no Lights Camera Jackson.

  3. Sometimes I think people hold Pixar movies to an unfair standard, but in this case I think the movie would be getting middling reviews even if Dreamworks had released it. I found myself zoning out multiple times during this movie because the characters were so thin and uninteresting.

    I wonder what the pre-director-overhaul movie was like. For one thing I bet it did more with the main characters being dinosaurs, and this version was just left with "well, I guess they're dinosaurs even though that doesn't add anything to the movie".

    What a mess indeed.

  4. I'm the asshole here because I thought this movie was amazing. I wrote a bit about it in a reddit thread so I'll just copy/paste what I wrote because it encapsulates my opinion on it as well as I could possibly explain. I'm not a good languager.

    "I feel like this film is set at a disadvantage. Inside Out came out this year, and it's a fast paced quirky comedy that's literally about emotional manipulation. But The Good Dinosaur is a different kind of film. It's kinda slow, it doesn't have a sturdy plot structure, it's weird and meanders and it's one of the most visually focused films Pixar has ever made. I really loved it. I loved it more than Inside Out. This is, honest to god, probably my 2nd favorite pixar movie right behind Monsters Inc.

    This movie has really REALLY amazing visuals, and I'm not just talking about how realistic the environments are. The inverted "Jaws" shot with the pterasaur beaks peaking through the clouds, the vision of Arlo's dad not leaving footprints, the older man howling and growing as he stands, the lightning in Arlo's eyes… the visuals in this film are sticking with me. This is one of my favorite movies of the year."

    1. Nothing wrong with that opinion. I actually didn't care for Inside Out as much as everyone else did. Didn't hit be on any emotional highs and it felt very by the numbers as far the the internal journey inside her head went. Hopefully The Good Dinosaur does something for me when I see it.