Set on an alternate Earth in which dinosaurs never went extinct, The Good Dinosaur focuses on the adventures of Arlo, a very timid young apatosaurus who longs to “make his mark” like the rest of his family. After proving unsuccessful at keeping “critters” (cavemen) out of the family’s corn silo, Arlo goes with his father to track the young critter who escaped him.
The tracking leads them into a ravine, which proves tragic, as a flash flood sweeps Arlo’s dad to his death, just after he has pushed Arlo to safety. Arlo blames the young critter and chases him the next time he encroaches on the apatosaurus family’s corn silo. The chase results in both falling in the river and being swept downstream.
They both survive and wind up helping each other. Arlo gives the young critter the only name to which he will respond (Spot), and the rest of The Good Dinosaur turns into a travel/buddy movie as the two make their way home and encounter various creatures and experiences along the way. Eventually, Arlo finds his courage, Spot finds a home with his own kind, and Arlo is able to make his mark.
Though the animation is stunning (especially the fireflies and the river), I found The Good Dinosaur to be one of the weakest of Pixar’s films. The theme worked really well, but the characters just weren’t as engaging as those in other recent Pixar films. The pacing bounced between too fast and too slow, seldom finding the “just right” sweet spot.
The plot…there wasn’t anything terribly wrong with it. It was a perfectly acceptable journey/coming-of-age/buddy movie. There just wasn’t anything special about it, either. You could’ve plopped dinosaurs and cavemen into any of dozens of other such films and gotten much the same thing.
I think my favorite part of The Good Dinosaur was the river. As aforementioned, it was amazingly well-animated (surpassing even Pixar’s usual standard of excellence) and had better characterization than some of the actual characters. In fact, had they somehow centered the story on the river and let the living things on its banks fill the supporting roles, they might have had a stronger film.
I liked the movie. It’s solidly good. There’s nothing bad about it. I just didn’t love it, and because Pixar has made so many excellent films over the years, I kind of expect to love their stuff. The Good Dinosaur is still definitely worth seeing on the big screen, for the beautiful animation, but it’s not one I’d enjoy watching repeatedly.
Release Date: November 25, 2015 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (characters get drunk off fermented fruit)
Nudity: 0 (though none of the dinosaurs wear clothes)
Violence: 2 (scary imagery, multiple attempted killing, death)