The Good Dinosaur (2015) / Animation-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for peril, action and thematic elements
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast (voices): Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Jack Bright, Steve Zahn, Anna Paquin, Sam Elliott, Marcus Scribner, Maleah Nipay-Padilla
Small role (voice): John Ratzenberger
Director: Peter Sohn
Screenplay: Meg LeFauve
Review published November 25, 2015
Offering up a sort of alternate prehistory on what might have happened had the theoretical asteroid that hit Earth 65 million years ago that wiped out all of the dinosaurs not occurred, dinosaurs are the ones that have advanced to learn how to speak and perform agriculture. We spy Poppa (Wright, Mockingjay Part 2) and Momma (McDormand, Transformers: Dark of the Moon) waiting the hatching of three of their eggs, springing forth unruly Buck (Scribner, "Blackish"), enthusiastic Libby (Nipay-Padilla, Fruitvale Station), and overly jumpy runt Arlo (Ochoa, A Christmas Carol). Buck and Libby take readily to their parents instructions, but Arlo is always lagging behind in his rites of passage, primarily out of his innate sense of fear, causing Poppa to have to take a more aggressive stance with the tyke to get him where he should be in life.
When their silo of corn is constantly being raided by an unknown critter, Arlo is tasked with putting an end to it. After setting his trap and going in for the kill, Arlo discovers a feral Neanderthal boy (Bright) with dog-like tendencies, and finds he can't bring himself to do it. Mishaps arise that see Arlo and Spot (as Arlo has dubbed him) washed away in a river and subsequently quite far from home, forcing them to make the long, perilous journey back through strange lands full of stranger creatures.
Plagued with production problems and changes in the creative team, who also made many alterations to the story at each turn, the long-awaited Pixar film finally sees the light of day, but, while not a terrible film, it falls short of their stellar reputation in some significant ways. The animation not directly related to the characters is breathtaking to behold, with photorealistic natural environs such as mountains, rivers, forests, and skies so vivid and detailed, you'd almost swear they were live action at times. Coming off not quite as effective, especially in such a realistic world, are the cartoonish main characters. The dinos look like they belong in a different, more cartoonish movie, such as one done by Aardman Animation (designers of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run). Arlo in particular looks more rubbery than reptilian, like a giant Wacky Wall Walker shaped like a sauropod (the genus of Arlo's kind is Apatosaurus) and makes me hungrier for gummi candy the more I see him. The science in this film is complete bunk, requiring us to suspend all manner of disbelief in the evolutionary aspects of it, but no child is likely going to mind as they get absorbed by the cute and colorful CGI characters.
Arlo is clumsy and outside of sheer nervous tics, he falls off the sides of cliffs, ledges, and other slopes repeatedly, or into flowing water -- the redundant nature of the action gets stale pretty quickly. As Arlo's sole task is to overcome his fears, we know that the story will place him in jeopardy at every turn, until such a time that he will either overcome them or be consumed by them. It's fairly clear where the story is going to go, including what will happen at the end, though once it does happen, it feels rushed, empty, and unsatisfying. Meanwhile, some of the perils Arlo and Spot have to overcome are either too grotesque or too harrowing for more sensitive children, garnering the PG rating, so parents be warned that some children may find the movie a little hard to bear in certain scenes (I suppose a Pixar-like teachable lesson for them to overcome their fears, as it were.) It's not often a particularly fun movie beyond the scenes of Arlo and Spot bonding.
Pixar had been in a critical decline over the last five years until Inside Out put them back on top again, but The Good Dinosaur may erase whatever momentum they've had in securing the fervor of their fans. It's my least favorite of all Pixar releases (yes, I rank it below Cars 2), and hopefully they'll find the lack of success for this one to be the "teachable lesson" they always put in all of their films. Although it hits its stride from time to time, like wobble-kneed Arlo, it seems to stumble often, scrambling back down the proverbial ravine to mediocrity due to uninspired situations and unpleasant confrontations.
©2015 Vince Leo