First thing’s first. Everyone has to agree not to compare The Good Dinosaur to Pixar’s latest triumph Inside Out. Show respect to The Good Dinosaur in its own right, as a wonderful and delightful film. Pixar films are not sequels to one another and are allowed to vary in tone, context and quality, but each should be considered independently.
Onto the film.
The Good Dinosaur could not have a more wonderful contrast of small and big scale storytelling in its endeavours. The tone is somewhat set by the sheer detail of the opening shots in space, depicting the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missing in this alternate timeline. It’s a fast set of shots and it very quickly and painlessly sets up the whole premise, and it’s somehow humourous despite a lack of any joke. The film proceeds to introduce us to a family of farming Apatosaurus; Henry, the father, Idea, the mother, big brother Buck, middle sister Libby, and littlest brother Arlo. The voice cast, largely of small names, the only majorly recognisable cast member being Jeffrey Wright, perform their roles well. Raymond Ochoa carries the film, but avoids the trappings of a generic child going on adventures performance.
We are introduced to this world very effectively, but slowly. This suits the film wonderfully. Unlike some recent Pixar and Disney efforts, there is no rushing through the set-up. The set-up is the first act. I don’t want to spoil anything in this review, but the set-up with the characters establishes Arlo, the unnaturally small dinosaur in the family, as terrified of everything.
He’s terrified of everything, and unable to mark achievements in the same way as the rest of the family, eventually winding up separated from them all, and must make his way home. That’s the whole tale. The main relationship that develops is the one between Arlo and his new human critter friend, Spot, who wind up needing each other to overcome their issues. This is the driving friendship of the film, and the inventive aspect of this one is that Spot, Arlo’s name for the little human, is the one unable to talk, very much becoming Arlo’s pet.
As ever with Pixar, the joy is in the beauty. The first act, largely on the farm, is small with big sets but not a lot going on. The second and third acts are in vast mountains and feel as big as Peter Jackson films. The dinosaurs are soft the vast set-pieces demand your attention. This simple story of a dinosaur gets lost and wants to get home is punctuated by a relatively small number of encounters, but a lot of scenery.
Maybe that’s a problem for the film. By just being a simple tale of going somewhere, it doesn’t go anywhere. A join-the-dots plot about someone overcoming their fear of everything is all good and well, but we expect a tad more depth from Pixar. The character growth isn’t embolic in any other main part of the film. For example, for the amount of detailed scenery showing off going on, we don’t get any major metaphors about the change in Arlo.
However, this is nitpicking. The film is about overcoming fear, and whilst it may not be about the beautiful world its depicting, it is beautiful. It is vast. It works, and surprisingly well given its troubled production. The Good Dinosaur does not have a lot going on, but what it does have going on is done well, sweetly and thoughtfully. You can’t go too far wrong with this one. Not to be overlooked.
Have you seen The Good Dinosaur? Let us know in the comments below!