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The Good Dinosaur – Review


Release Date: 25 November 2015 [USA]
Director: Peter Sohn
Writer: Bob Peterson [Concept] - Meg LeFauve [Screenplay] - Peter Sohn - Erik Benson - Meg LeFauve - Kelsey Mann - Bob Peterson [Story]
Cast: Jeffrey Wright - Frances McDormand - Maleah Nipay-Padilla



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Posted December 10, 2015 by

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The Good Dinosaur Review:

Like all Pixar films, The Good Dinosaur starts with a ‘what if’. In this case, it is ‘what if the comet that wiped out the dinosaurs never actually hit the Earth?’ Flash forward sixty five million years, and giant reptiles are the dominant species, while humans scuttle about on all fours and communicate in grunts. Young Arlo lives with his parents and two siblings on a farm, nestled in the foothills of the Claw Tooth Mountains. But while both his brother and sister earn their keep, Arlo struggles with nervousness and general ineptitude. He is tasked with trapping and killing the critter that’s been eating their food stores, but faced with the culprit – a small, snarling boy child – Arlo’s soft heart prevents him from going through with the extermination.

The Good Dinosaur Review

Determined to see his son overcome his cowardice and leave his mark (literally in this case, as represented by a footprint on the family’s corn silo), Arlo’s father takes him out into the wilderness, but a freak storm blows in, and their little adventure ends in tragedy. Well, this is Pixar. When the hungry boy returns to the farm, Arlo blames him for his father’s death and chases him off the land, but he gets swept into the river and carried miles downstream. Far from home, Arlo must rely on the survival skills of the human critter, whom he names Spot, and confront his fears in the big, bad world.

Pixar were always going to come under scrutiny here, after the well-publicised production issues with The Good Dinosaur. Original director Bob Peterson was replaced by Peter Sohn (the real-life inspiration for Russell in Up), and the story was totally reworked. Release was delayed from summer 2014 to November 2015, meaning that this movie hit theatres just four months after Inside Out, widely regarded as one of the studio’s most original and emotionally complex stories to date. Indeed, Pixar seem to have made a rod for their own backs by continually raising the bar. Critics have come to expect genre-defying, high-concept films such as Wall-E and Up, so The Good Dinosaur with its simple coming of age story and echoes of The Lion King and The Wizard of Oz, pales a little, coming so hot on the heels of the ambitious Inside Out.

Billed as Pixar’s most beautiful film, it certainly doesn’t disappoint in the eye-candy department. The studio is known for pioneering new technology, and this time around the buzz centres on their ground-breaking methods of animating water. The opening shots of the landscape and the sweeping vistas we see throughout are photo-real, in juxtaposition to the very cartoonish characters, who retain their adorable, wide-eyed aesthetic. This is a little jarring initially, but the interaction between players and scenery is so seamless that it soon becomes irrelevant.

While the unlikely duo of juvenile Apatosaurus and his pet boy meet danger in the form of some velociraptor cattle rustlers and some storm-chasing pterodactyls, the real threat is the wilderness itself. Essentially Pixar have made a western, and the harsh and beautiful great outdoors is the third main character. Indeed, one of the most touching scenes in the film sees Spot and Arlo wordlessly explain the demise of their respective family members under the stars, culminating in the pair howling their grief at the full moon.

The final scene too, is largely dialogue-free, and is testament to just how masterful this studio is at ripping your heart out without saying a damn thing. As we’ve come to expect from Pixar, The Good Dinosaur does not shy away from the darker themes. The reality of death and loss is ever present, and while Arlo finds his way back to the farm and makes his mark, both figuratively and literally, his homecoming is bittersweet. Following in the footsteps of everyone who has survived an epic journey, he is changed forever, no longer afraid, but certainly not unscathed as the campfire discussion of scars with the t-rex family underscores.

The Good Dinosaur T Rex

What The Good Dinosaur lacks in story and cohesion, it makes up for in soul. One scene, in which Arlo and Spot accidentally eat hallucinogenic berries, is laugh-out-loud hilarious, as is their encounter with a forest-dwelling Styracosaurus. Moments like this serve to remind us that even at its most conventional, Pixar still does weird better than anyone. And you’d have to be fossilised not to be moved by the relationship between Arlo and Spot. It’s not without its problems, but The Good Dinosaur is a nomadic tale with plenty of heart.


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Katie Young
Katie Young – Author
Freelance Contributor

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