It’s hard to narrow down when the “What if” became a storytelling device, there has been series of novels with alternate histories, short stories, even Marvel and DC Comics had there “What if’s” and “Elseworlds” tales, and it was in 1995 when Pixar asked, what if your toys had a whole world that you never saw. Twenty years later the highly successful studio is still asking questions about alternate worlds, like what would have happened if dinosaurs never went extinct? This is the premise for the world of “The Good Dinosaur” where the prehistoric beasts and humans exist together.
Arlo is the preverbal runt of the litter in an apatosaurus family, he is not tough like his brother Buck, or quick like his sister Libby, he’s skinny, clumsy, and afraid of the oversized chickens on his family’s farm. When a family tragedy (because, it is a Disney movie after all) forces Arlo to survive out in the wilderness alone, he quickly meets up with another creature who is on his own, a savage canine-esqe little boy he dubs ‘Spot’. Together they must face the harsh landscape, bigger, meaner dinosaurs and their own fear in order to get back home.
It was going to be hard for any other animated film this year to upstage “Inside Out” which was also done by Pixar. “The Good Dinosaur” is nowhere near that caliber of film, it follows a tried and true formula, so much so that my eight-year old leaned over to me about ten minutes in and said, “That’s just like The Lion King”. And she was absolutely right, and it does share a lot of elements with the 1995 classic, except for feeling like one. I give it points for trying to be original in other ways. This film goes from a buddy survival adventure to a western, complete with a cattle-drive and a camp-fire scene, with some fantastic bits of humor that actually had me laughing out loud along with my kids, but still manages to finish exactly how and where it should, and not much more.
And just so I’m clear, while “The Good Dinosaur” is only as good as it says, I will take it any day over another “Cars” or “Monster’s Inc.” sequel. There is still the brilliant animation and cute characters that are expected, what feels like it’s missing though is the stellar voice casting that Pixar is known for. The best example in this film was Steve Zahn as a crazed pterodactyl, and Sam Elliot as a scarred T-Rex, both of which are only in the film for a few minutes, more of that was needed to fill in the gaps of the formulaic nature of the script.
Still, it has to be said that Pixar remains the best at what they do, whether it’s a short or feature film, their track record while not spotless, exceeds where most animation gets it wrong. I’m okay with a balance of classics along with the ones that are just ‘good’ enough.
—Robert L. Castillo