I don’t have to tell you, Pixar are amazing. Even though they went through a bit of a dry patch over the last few years, they ended that dry patch by making Inside Out, my favorite film of 2015. That’s like ending a goal scoring drought in football by scoring a winner in the Champion’s League final against Real Madrid. There aren’t many other studios where the otherwise fine Brave would be lambasted for not being good enough because when you compare it to Toy Story and Finding Nemo and that’s because of the high expectations we have from them. Can their latest The Good Dinosaur get over those expectations though?
In a world where the meteor didn’t hit Earth, dinosaurs and human beings live alongside each other. In this world, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa, A Christmas Carol) is the smallest of three children in a farming family and is determined to prove himself. However when he tries to get rid of a young human eating their food (Jack Bright, Monsters University), they both end up being taken far away from home. So the two must team up so they can get back to their respective homes.
The thing that strikes you instantly about this film is that Pixar are really trying to impress you with their animation here. It’s rather rare that they do that, I’ve commented before that for all their revolutionary ways, other 3D animation films tend to look better than Pixar efforts, so it’s nice to see them try. Actually I say try, I mean succeed because this is the best looking Pixar film since Finding Nemo. This film lavishes detail on it’s landscapes, making them a mixture of beauty and terror. And when the film shows off with the firefly scenes, it looks absolutely gorgeous. I hope if nothing else, Pixar take from this film that they can do visually beautiful films and do it more often.
But where Pixar usually succeeds is in the story and unfortunately, I feel like they skimped a bit. As shown in Inside Out, Pixar can do amazing stories that are original and tell us something new about ourselves. The Good Dinosaur however tells a story that has already been told. Essentially, it’s a story about the strength inside. So yeah, every animated TV show ever made. When My Little Pony beats you to a plot point, you aren’t on a good track. Now, the film doesn’t necessarily suffer for this. As a telling of this particular story, it’s a very good telling. I just wish they did something a bit different.
One of the reasons you might not notice this a telling of a story that has been done is because this film has plenty of character. Again, Arlo is a character that has been done before, but he is incredibly endearing. You completely understand his plight and get why he has certain character flaws. And it’s testament to the power of Pixar that the fact he screams every few minutes isn’t immediately the most annoying thing in the world. And his little human companion Spot is quite fun too. In essence, it’s a feral human kid, so you know, a typical kid, but like Arlo he’s very endearing. Heck, I’d describe the whole film as endearing.
And I do want to give a warning to you all, like so many Pixar films this is one that could make you cry. Pixar are so fascinated with the idea of loss and they pull it off again with Arlo’s reaction in the latter part of the film to an event in the story I’ll try not to spoil. And yeah, it works. For a studio that makes so called kids films, they certainly know how to pull on the heart strings of us so called adults because just like Bing Bong and the first ten minutes of Up, it does cause a stirring in the heart and an insistence that it’s very dusty.
The only thing that really irritates me is that this feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Let me explain. For how much we all praise Inside Out for it’s originality, like I did further up in this review, the idea has been done before in the likes of Herman’s Head and Osmosis Jones. The Good Dinosaur is rather similar in concept. The idea of dinosaurs and humans living together has been done before in the likes of Theodore Rex, this also serves as my daily reminder to watch that film because it will bring joy to your soul, but Pixar could make it their own. But they don’t. I feel like so much more could be done with this idea rather than just repeating an old story that’s been done before.
In my Spectre review, I described it as B-tier James Bond. Good, but not really a classic. Well, The Good Dinosaur is the same in the Pixar pantheon. This isn’t a travesty, I don’t think any Pixar film is a travesty, but it’s not one we’re going to remember for years and years. It’s just testament to how much we expect from Pixar as if any other studio made this, we’d be praising them up to the hill tops. Instead, we’re left remarking “Meh, not as good as Inside Out.”