Pixar raised the bar so high with Inside Out it’s hardly surprising that their latest film The Good Dinosaur” feels simpler, more conventional, and less inventive in comparison. Still it’s heartfelt and endearing, and an adventure that younger audiences will particularly enjoy.
Set in an alternate universe where dinosaurs still exist, and are in fact more evolved than humans, the film focuses on Arlo, a timid Apatosaurus (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) growing up on a corn farm with his parents and two spunkier siblings. An attempt on his father’s part to make the little fella overcome his fears goes horribly wrong, and Arlo is washed away from his family in a flood with only a grunting dog-like cave-boy for company. As he prepares to head back home, Arlo bonds with his human pet whom he names Spot, and together they encounter ferocious storms, predatory beasts, and a clan of bison-herding T-rexes along the way.
A clever spin on the typical ‘boy and his dog’ story, the film gives us some charming moments between Arlo and his new friend, particularly a moving scene in which they figure out a way to communicate the similarity of their situations. Spot, although alone in the world, is fearless and a survivor; these are qualities that inspire Arlo. Their relationship is the best part of this film.
Predictably, Arlo learns to find his inner strength after staring danger in the face. It’s a familiar storyline, as are themes of childhood trauma and the importance of family, which Pixar does so well. Director Peter Sohn chooses to keep things simple, infusing humor into the film’s shopworn premise. A scene in which Arlo and Spot accidentally consume hallucinogenic fruits leads to hilarious consequences.
Never as rich and complex as some of the studio’s best films, The Good Dinosaur stands out nevertheless for its beautiful rendering of the natural world. We get imposing mountains, lush plains and raging rivers that appear photo-real. Surprisingly some of the character design is basic. Arlo and his family, for one, look like plasticine models. These are minor gripes, however, in a pleasing children’s film.
I’m going with three out of five for The Good Dinosaur. Make sure you reach the theatre on time so you don’t miss the terrific animated short Sanjay’s Super Team, based on a “mostly true story” about how a little Indian boy came to discover and love the Hindu superhero gods that his father worshipped.