Just like the asteroid that avoids hitting the Earth in the opening scene, Pixar misses the mark with The Good Dinosaur. What they serve up for their 16th full length animated offering is a meandering, reverse “Boy and his dog” story that sets out to prove something, but never quite feels like it amounts to much of anything special.
The film gives us an alternate take on prehistoric history where the dinosaurs were never wiped out by a catastrophic cosmic event and instead went on to slightly evolve more human-like tendencies like farming, cattle rustling, and even home building. Alongside these dinos exists a young boy who teams up with the main juvenile protagonist Apatosaurus, Arlo after the two are swept away far downstream by a river that neighbors the young dino’s homestead.
Left to their own devices and with Arlo blaming the young human boy who he names “Spot” for the death of his father, they must overcome the disjointed series of “attacks” from other dinosaurs that include Pterodactyls and Raptors (complete with sparse feathers.) I place the word attacks in quotes here because at no time do you really feel the main characters are in any form of real danger. Yes, while the viciousness of the antagonists is felt on some smaller critters, in the end you’re left with dinos that don’t possess much of a bite when it comes to hurting anything with a major speaking role.
Where this film really excels are the stunningly rendered landscapes filled with sun kissed grass, lens flares, billowy towering clouds, and roiling tempests. Pixar has really stepped up its animation game this time around with terrain and weather effects that look amazingly photorealistic, but they aren’t enough to offset the meandering pace of this film. For all of the attention to detail and lushness of the environment, you’re left wondering what happened to the character design and why the ball was dropped in this department. The dinosaurs in the movie are created to look overly cartoony which clashes with the wonderfully imagined outdoor settings.
One other high point of the movie is Sam Elliot’s portrayal of the T-Rex named Butch. From tall tales to dispensing sage-like advice, Elliot’s T-Rex is less of a terrorizing carnivore and more of a Jurassic Yoda, offering to assist Arlo in his hunt for home. Of course, with most of Pixar’s works there is a play on the heartstrings. I won’t spoil anything, but look to grab something to dry your eyes a few times throughout your viewing.
Overall, I felt that Pixar finally did something they’ve never done before — They let me down. Even 2011’s Cars 2 felt more coherent and fun than this movie, which is really sad on a lot of levels. Hopefully it won’t perform that badly at the box office and the rest of the Internet can decry the fall of all things Pixar.
Also, if you’re looking to take small children to this film, be cautioned that there is a lot of violence and plenty of loud noises. Several times throughout the movie there were the cries of frightened kids rising up to meet my ears.