Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Peter Sohn
Stars: voices of Jeffery Wright, Frances McDormand, Sam Elliott, Steve Zahn, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Peter Sohn, Maleah Nipay-Padilla, Anna Paquin, John Ratzenberger.
Pixar animation films have always been characterised by the quality of the sophisticated writing and the emotional substance to their stories (Toy Story 2, Up, Wall.E, etc), although lately the quality has dropped with formulaic films like Planes, Brave, Cars 2, etc. The 16th film from Pixar studios is The Good Dinosaur, which is an enjoyable enough yarn but still falls a little short of the high standard we have come to expect from the studio.
The Good Dinosaur is set in an alternative world, where the asteroid that caused the ice age and wiped out the dinosaurs supposedly missed the planet. Dinosaurs continued to thrive and have taken on agrarian pursuits such as farming and cattle ranching. The central character here is Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa), a young apatosaurus who lives on a farm with his parents (voiced by Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand) and two siblings. The runt of the litter who is afraid of virtually everything, and unlike the rest of the family he struggles with simple chores.
One day, catastrophe strikes and Arlo becomes stranded in the wilderness and is separated from his family. Thus begins the long journey home. He faces plenty of adventures and dangers, and meets a number of characters along the way, and he learns to fend for himself. Among those he meets during his journey are a feral young human boy named Spot (voiced by Jack Bright) and a family of T-Rex ranchers, led by the formidable Butch (voiced in distinctively gruff and gravelly tones by Sam Elliott).
The warm relationship that develops between Arlo and Spot provides much of the emotional crux of the narrative. The film draws a nice contrast between Arlo, who is virtually afraid of everything, and the feral human Spot, who is fearless. What we have here is a variation on the tropes of the familiar coming of age tale, albeit one that replaces human characters with dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. The strong moral of the story deals with themes of family and facing your fears.
As with most of Pixar’s output, the animation is superbly rendered and detailed, especially with the depiction of the natural environment, the forests, rivers, mountains and waterfalls, which is particularly and strikingly realistic, and far more sophisticated than anything seen in other animated films like Ice Age or The Land Before Time. The visuals are indeed quite sumptuous, however the animation of the green, long-necked dinosaurs appears a little simple and second rate by comparison.
The Good Dinosaur was something of a troubled production; it has been some six years in the making and undergone a number of cast and personnel changes in the interim. Director Peter Sohn is a veteran of the Disney animation department, who has worked on films like Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, etc. Sohn replaced original director Bob Peterson, and makes his directorial debut.
Some five writers have laboured over the script, including Meg Le Fauvre (Inside Out, etc) and Bob Peterson (Up, etc), which accounts for its predictable nature and a slight unevenness of tone. The narrative is liberally laced with touches of humour – there is plenty of physical, slapstick humour that will appeal to younger audiences, although a scene involving an attack by hyena-like creatures may be a little too scary for youngsters. There is also another questionable scene in which Arlo falls under the spell of a hallucinogenic drug that misfires. Older audiences will appreciate the well drawn characters and moral messages.