Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Directed by: Peter Sohn
Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Maleah Nipay-Padilla, Raymond Ochoa
It almost seems unfair of Pixar to release The Good Dinosaur so soon after the critically and commercially celebrated Inside Out. tFor many saw the studio’s 15th feature, with its faultless fusion of ingeniously inventive visuals, conceptually complex story and stirringly sensitive tone, as a significant spike following a dispiriting stagnation in the quality of the animator’s output.
In comparison to such ambition, The Good Dinosaur, Pixar’s 16th film, could almost be considered archetypical. The plot, developed by director Peter Sohn & Bob Peterson (who himself was initially in line to direct when the film was first announced back in 2011), owes a great debt to both The Lion King and The Land Before Time, combining coming-of-age thematics within the structure of a journey story that follows apprehensive Apatosaurus Arlo (Raymond Ochoa, whose voice captures both the charisma and naivety of his character), as he tries to overcome personal obstacles and find his way home after being separated from his family.The great “what if” here wonders what would have happened if the asteroid had missed Earth millions of years ago and allowed dinosaurs to continue being the Planet’s dominant species. Meaning that in this alternate world it is humans that roam the wild, while families like Arlo’s have formed their own society and settled on the open land.
Arlo’s parents (Jeffery Wright & Frances McDormand) are farmers, who spend their days harvesting corn while trying to teach their children to take on responsibility and prove themselves. Early scenes see siblings Libby (Maleah Padilla) & Buck (Marcus Scribner) earn their right to leave a mud-print on the family’s corn silo, but Arlo struggles to find the strength needed to make the grade. That is until a series of events finds Arlo isolated in the harsh and mysterious wilderness with only a feral caveboy named Spot (Jack Bright), forcing him to confront his fears and discover what he is truly capable of.
Inspired by the landscapes of the American Northwest, The Good Dinosaur is animation at its most innovative and intoxicating. Though the dinos themselves, with their embellished features that’s evocative of Fox’s Ice Age, fail to fully peak our interest (with the exception of the Velociraptors who, purists will be happy to note, do have chicken-like feathers), the extraordinary environments more than make up for it. The breathtaking background scenery bursts with photo-realistic beauty, and bustles with a volumetric weather design so involving you can practically feel the chills of the rain as it pours down in the evenings, and the heady heat of the sun as it rises in the mornings.As a visual tour-de-force, The Good Dinosaur is a triumph, but there are other accomplishments here that deserve to be praised. Sohn’s infectious wit and wildly inventive imagination pay great dividends throughout, particularly when the film briefly turns into a tale of the Old West following the arrival of Sam Elliot’s T-Rex rancher who’s herding bison across the plains.
However, it’s the emotional delicacy in Meg LeFauve’s script, something that was arguably missing from the more abrasive Inside Out, which truly steals your heart. The friendship that grows between Arlo and Spot is rooted in a deeply moving honesty that allows this most ridiculous of concepts to be grounded, like many of Pixar’s top-tier classics, in an emotive reality that leaves your face red-eyed and tear-streaked by the end. Forgive the pun, but The Good Dinosaur is a roaring success.