July was a busy month, indeed. Despite that, a few weeks back I finally sat down and watched the final two Pixar films I hadn’t seen yet, and one of them was this film- a 2016 release that generally gets forgotten in the pile of excellent films that Pixar has produced over many years, and perhaps doubly so given that it was wedged in between a year with Inside Out (2015) and then last year’s animation standout in Coco (2017), which I also wrote about here. Let’s jump into it though!
Film: The Good Dinosaur
Studio/year released: Pixar, 2015
What a pleasant film. As mentioned in my preface, this was one of only two Pixar films I hadn’t viewed yet (the other being Cars 3). However, I made an evening of the two and the result is the review you’re reading now.
The Good Dinosaur is a charming movie with a warm emotional heart. It’s not nearly as deep as some of Pixar’s finest films, but it still manages to hold its own between some absolutely breathtaking scenery, a very refreshing twist on the “if dinosaurs and humans coexisted” question that cinema has explored for as long as there’s been film reels, and a likable underdog in Arlo, an undersized sauropod whose story revolves around “making his mark”- in other words, growing into the dinosaur his parents think he can become and more.
It’s my prevailing thought that this film may have claimed the title of most overlooked Pixar film (over A Bug’s Life, which is a fine movie.) It’s got a nice mix of tragic and heartfelt in its narrative, and in some ways feels like a more nuanced version of Blue Sky’s Ice Age from many years back, particularly when it comes to the idea of the “road less traveled. To borrow a quote that I picked up from my undergrad work, “successful interpretation (in a story) is often like the weaving of a tapestry or [symbolized] by the arduous journey home.” Indeed, this idea is fully on display with Arlo: when he first travels away from his comfortable homestead his life is thrown into disarray and confusion, which also turns into a mission to prove his worth. Without trying to spoil too much, it’s when he’s farthest away from all he knew that he’s at his nadir, but the moment he takes his first steps back towards where he came from is the moment he really begins to grow. In that sense, this movie’s true beauty is not just the gorgeous reflection and clarity of 3-D water, or the vivid landscapes that can capture the imagination, but rather how this interesting thematic idea plays out in the animated medium, along with the true antagonist not necessarily being some certain hungry pterodactyls, but rather, a young dinosaur’s struggles along the path he takes with an unlikely new friend- Spot, a human boy.
As it stands, The Good Dinosaur makes for a fine movie night, especially as a family-friendly flick. There’s no doubt in my mind that the deeper thematic ideas will find some root with most people, while kids would love the antics of Arlo and Spot- a dynamic that works rather nicely and far more nuanced than I expected initially. While this film might never get the recognition of other Pixar fare- a safe assumption given the extraordinary stable of titles the studio has- it’s a very good movie worth a look.
Animation Quality: Pixar’s usual 3-D animation. As you’d expect, it looks superb in every sense of the word, and also typical with the studios’ films, it also incorporates that gorgeous art right into the storytelling. While the dinosaurs in the movie slant far more towards “cartoony” than “realistic” in their looks and proportions, it works well for the film. 5/5 points.
Characterization: As talked about, the main character of this tale is Arlo- a young sauropod who is the runt of the litter among his other two siblings on the farmstead his family keeps. Desperate to live up to the rest of his family and make “his mark,” Arlo’s adventure is one spring-boarded by both tragedy and fate.
His unlikely companion on that journey is “Spot”- a small human boy who in this alternate imagining of the world, acts far more like a wolf or a dog. He’s very agile, relatively fearless and is also shown to be rather caring as the movie progresses, fostering a cute, heartfelt relationship with his young dinosaur companion.
The rest of the film mostly features a supporting cast designed to frame Arlo’s journey, and they do so effectively, from his family to a couple T-Rex herders who essentially are cowboys. It works well, but ultimately the film’s main dynamic hinges on Arlo and Spot, and while simple, it comes together nicely. 3.75/5 points.
Story Quality: I’ve talked quite a bit about this already in my thoughts, but this movie’s about the journey and how one can “make their mark.” It’s relatively straightforward, especially compared to some of Pixar’s best film, but the execution of the idea is done very well and has a stronger emotional undertone than was expected. 3.75/5 points.
Themes: Tying directly into the story portion, this is in a very real sense a coming of age tale forged through unusual and trying circumstances. It’s also a tale of the proverbial “ugly duckling” finally taking wing and figuring out how to fly, or in Arlo’s case, stand on his own four feet as he navigates his adventure. Indeed, there are some influences from other places (and a certain event is almost certainly inspired by The Lion King), but this is a film with a good strong sense of its main thrust and it drives it home well. 3.5/5 points.
Don’t Insult the Viewer: A very family-friendly film that has a good emotional heart and stellar animation as mentioned above is always a winner in the intangibles department. The music worked well enough, and it’s a clean watch without any sort of grievously objectionable material. 5/5 points.
Overall: 21/25 (84%): A very solid, underrated pick in Pixar’s robust stable of movies, The Good Dinosaur is a solid film that has universal appeal and solid messaging. It’s worth a quick pick as a watch option for a night.’
Like what you see? Are you a fan of The Good Dinosaur? Leave a comment!