Film Review: The Good Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur is fine, but fine feels like a huge disappointment when it is a product of Pixar.

The Good Dinosaur, a title that makes no sense after watching the film, is centered around a young dino named Arlo who goes on a coming of age adventure after accidentally getting washed away from his family farm. The world of the film surmises that the meteor that hit Earth and caused the mass-extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs never happened, and millions of years later dinosaurs have evolved to talk and formed the early elements of agrarian and herding society. Arlo’s family plants crops and harvests their food for winter and the local pest to the dinosaurs are humans on Arlo’s farm. When Arlo gets separated from his family, he also ends up entangled with a human, Spot, along the way, as the two discover a friendship as they fight to survive.

After one viewing, I think I can safely say that The Good Dinosaur is my least favorite film released by Pixar. On the other hand, the film is also their most impressive technical feat. The landscapes and textures in the film look photo real, and basking in that beauty does make the film that much more enjoyable. The film also has all of these shots that just sit back and let you appreciate the landscapes/animation, and it is something you never see in an animated feature. I appreciate the artistry on display, and I would love to see Pixar just go all the way on a movie like that.

Instead with The Good Dinosaur, we get Pixar trying to tell a story with an incredibly weak script that doesn’t ever find a rhythm. You can feel the film struggling to figure out what it wants to be and never really comes close to finding it. The villains it throws in feel so perfunctory to the plot, but at least the imagery we get of them peering through the storm near the end was legit unsettling. The encounters feel so random along the way for Arlo and Spot, which would be fine if the characters got something out of these or learned anything, but most of the little diversions just feel pointless, even if a couple of them are funny or cute. I also like nothing in the film that had to do with Arlo’s dad, Poppa. It all felt so false and forced, right from the first scene. I don’t know if it was just the writing, or Jeffrey Wright’s performance, but I was borderline excited once he wasn’t around any more. Though, the firefly scene was pretty good between the two of them.

I also had myself buying into the world building of the film and the whole evolution of the dinosaurs. I think Pixar does a nice job of not over explaining things, they just present it to you, but at the same time I never really gelled with this evolved dino world. This is probably more on me than the film, but I have never had a problem buying in when it comes to Pixar’s worlds.

The stuff that does work the best is the bonding between Arlo and Spot, and I kind of wish they didn’t feel the need to force some lame plot beats into the story. Did I really need to see Arlo become a cattle herder? All the moments that are working best for the film are the ones between Arlo and Spot, and you do feel the bond and kinship between the two of them. Luckily, that is the heart of the film, and that’s what makes the film ultimately work, but anytime we get introduced to some outside element, my enjoyment trended the wrong way.

The Good Dinosaur is also Pixar’s most childish picture. None of their other features have ever felt so aimed at such a young audience, and while it is a coming of age story Arlo still feels very much like a kid in the end. He’s changed and grown, for sure, but this might be another reason I couldn’t connect with the film the way I usually do Pixar’s stuff. The psychotropic rotted fruit sequence, that was for adults, and it was fantastic.

I have been a bit negative on The Good Dinosaur, and I wish it was something more than it is, but I did enjoy myself whenever Pappa wasn’t on screen. Being Pixar’s weakest effort means you can still be a good movie, and the film is worth watching for its animation alone. Arlo and Spot are a cute team, I just wish the film was more focused on their adventure and not full of uninteresting randoms.

4 thoughts on “Film Review: The Good Dinosaur

  1. Yes, the villains are minor. But I like that the villains are not nearly as dangerous or powerful as nature itself. Maybe they are trying to make the point that bad things happen, and sometimes it isn’t anybody’s fault.

    I agree that the cattle herder scenes were a low point. They needed a scene where Arlo transitions into taking the initiative. It seems like they could have come up with something better.

    I’m not sure why you didn’t think Poppa was a good character. I bet the character and the film as a whole will grow on you during revisits. While Inside Out is clearly the better movie, I laughed more while watching the Good Dinosaur. Pixar had a notoriously hard time with the script. Do you think that all the talk of Pixar’s trouble with the story tainted your viewing?

    The worst Pixar film? Lets not forget about the vapid corpse of a film called Cars 2. The Good Dinosaur is flawed, but it has heart, Cars 2 only sold us toys and Prilosec OTC.

    1. Cars 2 might not even be in my bottom 3! I really like it as a spy movie; plus Giacchino’s score.

      I don’t think the behind the scenes knowledge tainted my viewing, it was just really clear that they were piecing everything together.

      Yeah, Arlo herding a couple cattle was not the most convincing transition.

      I also am not sure about the nature threat, the river overflowing was the only threat I felt tangible from nature. And, I mean, I don’t need a villain, Inside Out doesn’t have a villain, but The Good Dinosaur needed something to give it forward momentum.

      And I am sure it will play better in future viewings, I just haven’t left a Pixar film feeling so “that was okay”. The drug scene was the only stand out sequence for me.

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