November 28, 2015 // No Comments
I shall begin this review by stating something right out the bat; The Good Dinosaur, Pixar’s latest cinematic offering, made me cry. As a 27-year-old man, this is not something that is necessarily okay to admit, especially when said movie’s critical response has been mixed to negative. So what was it about the The Good Dinosaur that made me tear up?
Maybe I’m just a sucker for the ‘boy and his dog’ narrative because The Good Dinosaur is a mixed bag of flavours that you’ve tasted before and you don’t necessarily all want in the same place. I’ve seen stories wondering if this is Pixar’s worst movie to date, and whilst I don’t necessarily agree – hello, Cars – it’s hard to ignore that for all it’s emotional weight in the last fifteen minutes, the overall movie has some serious problems.
First of all, let’s start with the plot. In an alternative future where the meteor didn’t hit Earth, Dinosaurs have ‘evolved’ to be able to do basic farming and speak English. Born into a family of farmers is a timid dinosaur known as Arlo, who wants nothing more to prove himself to his father, Henry. You see, Henry has this thing where he will let family members put their ‘mark’ (footprint) on the food silo if they ‘earn’ it, and Arlo ends up being the only one not to manage it, due to being pretty scared of everything.
Henry decides to give Arlo a chance to prove himself by asking him to kill a critter that has been eating all their food. Said critter turns out to be a human child who acts like a dog known as Spot, who Arlo can’t bring himself to kill. Tragedy strikes and Arlo is ultimately left alone and afraid in the world, trying to get back home with the help of his new friend, Spot. Feels ensue.
First off, this plot has been done before. A lot. Despite the title obviously being a nod to the parable of ‘The Good Son’, it has ostensibly nothing to do with that story other than Arlo’s return home. It’s more about Arlo bonding with Spot and learning to overcome his fears. This plot would be fine except the lead in to get Arlo to his adventure is lazy and horribly written. I cannot emphasise how much I loathed the whole ‘earn the right to leave your mark’ thing as a plot device, and when his father basically wants Arlo to kill to earn something his siblings earnt through lifting heavy things and ploughing the field, it’s got some bad connotations.
As does the fact that “Shape up Arlo or we’ll all die” is basically a theme of the movie and his family’s inter-actions. Again, what the hell?
What saves the movie is the ‘boy and his dog’ narrative stuff. Arlo isn’t unlikeable and when we pair him up with Spot, the movie does become very charming, if not something we have seen before. A scene where Spot and Arlo communicate their family stories to each other using sticks is very touching, and it pays off enough for said water works to be earnt. I liked seeing these two together, and if the movie’s set up had been better, I think I would’ve liked the movie a lot more.
Another sequence of the movie that really works is the part where Arlo and Spot meet up with a trio of T-rex’s. The three are all likeable and I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could, but alas their screentime is limited in order to make room for what makes up most of the movie – whimiscal farting about.
There are a lot of sequences of Arlo and Spot frolicking together in beautifully animated scenery that could’ve been cut with no consequence to the narrative. Did we really need to see our heroes getting high off rotten berries? No. Will I ever be able to unsee that moment? NOPE!
Another thing I must mention about this movie has parts that remind me a lot from The Lion King. The two evil dinosaur groups we meet are basically just the hyenas from that movie, and there’s a subplot that is so reminiscent of The Lion King that you can overlay dialogue from that movie and it would fit perfectly. I don’t want to mention specifically what is similar but it’s one of the most iconic and quoted moments of that classic so… you can probably guess.
All this said, for all it’s utter lack of anything original, The Good Dinosaur has enough good points that I actually give this one a recommendation. With the caveat that you either have to really, really love ‘boy and his dog’ stories or have very young children. I suspect that the latter are the intended audience for this, as it feels like it’s aiming a lot younger than I expect from Pixar this time around. Kid’s will like this I think and parents won’t have a bad time sitting through it.
Maybe they should rename this The Adequate Dinosaur?
*Be thankful I got through this entire thing without talking about how the humans wear clothes but act like animals or how the whole ‘what if the meteor never hit earth’ element is utterly useless or any of the other million nitpicks I had about this movie. It took all my strength, trust me.