Adventure Animation

'The Good Dinosaur' Film Review: Pixar goes prehistoric

November 25, 2015Ben MK

Scientists have long thought that about 65 million years ago, a giant asteroid came hurtling into our atmosphere, impacting the Earth and wiping out what was then the most dominant life form on the planet: the dinosaurs. It was an extinction-level event that paved the way for a new alpha species: humankind. But imagine what might have been if the asteroid missed our big blue marble altogether...

That's the basic premise behind Disney/Pixar's latest computer-animated crowd-pleaser, The Good Dinosaur, a film that takes place millions of years after the catastrophe-that-never-was, and which posits a world where Apatosaurs sow crops like farmers and T-Rexes herd bison like cowboys. Most importantly, however, it's a world where dinosaurs and early humans coexist; and it's where we find our pair of prehistoric protagonists: a cowardly young Apatosaurus named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) and a feral caveboy named Spot (Jack Bright).

Arlo and Spot start off as adversaries, after Spot makes himself a nuisance on the farm belonging to Arlo's family, which includes his Poppa (Jeffrey Wright), Momma (Frances McDormand), and siblings, Libby and Buck. But when tragedy strikes, separating Arlo from his family and stranding him in the middle of the wilderness, he finds a surprising new ally in Spot, who takes it upon himself to become Arlo's protector. Together, the unlikely duo set off to find their way back to Arlo's home in the valley below Claw Tooth Mountain, encountering all sorts of colorful characters along the way.

Some of those characters, like a pack of predatory Pterodactyls (led by Steve Zahn), would like nothing better than to have a tasty little critter like Spot for lunch; while others, like a family of true-grit Tyrannosaurs (played by Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin and A.J. Buckley), are more than happy to help. Then there are the kookier characters, like the Triceratops "Pet Collector" (who also happens to be voiced by the film's director, Peter Sohn), who wants to add Spot to the menagerie of cute and cuddly creatures adorning his horns, and who helps to fulfill the film's quota of hilarious comic relief.

The assortment of characters perfectly illustrates how The Good Dinosaur's script (penned by Inside Out screenwriter Meg LeFauve) expertly balances thrills, moments of sincere emotion, and laugh-out-loud humor. And like other Pixar films, the movie looks gorgeous doing it, with a story set against the backdrop of prehistoric North America, comprised of stunningly vast vistas and corner-to-corner photorealism. At the film's core, though, what it all boils down is the relationship between Arlo and Spot, and how they come to rely on one another not just for survival, but also for friendship.

Yes, it's a motif that's been revisited time and time again by the filmmakers at Pixar, from 1995's Toy Story to 2009's Up. But while you could argue that The Good Dinosaur is playing it safe when it comes to its character archetypes and its emotional trajectory, you can't say that it doesn't deliver well on its promise of a rousing, family-friendly adventure with a heartwarming gold center. It just goes to show that not everything Pixar does has to be a creative risk in order for it to be a success. Sure, the movie may be no Inside Out; but for all that it aspires to be, The Good Dinosaur is pretty great.

The Good Dinosaur releases November 25th, 2015 from Walt Disney Studios. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for peril, action and thematic elements. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 40 Mins.

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