Movie Review - The Good Dinosaur

The premise is a reversal of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Flintstones. Instead of people having dinosaurs as pets, dinosaurs or specifically one dinosaur has a person as a pet. The premise is also a version of the ABC series Dinosaurs (1991), except the protagonists don't live in a modern-era environment. They live in an agrarian age. As with the ABC series, the focus is on a family of five, a mom, a dad and three children. The children are comprised of two sons and a daughter. The story focuses on the youngest of the three, the very timid Arlo, voiced by 14-year-old, Raymond Ochoa.

Arlo and his family have a farm that grows corn and chicken. The parents push the children to work hard so they can raise enough food to squirrel away for the winter. It's not indicated how old Arlo is, but he looks like a green Brontosaurus and from his size it could be argued that he's about 10 to 14 years old. That being said, the upcoming winter is probably not his first. This is to say that the worry and concern about saving food is not understandable.

It seems likely that they've been okay for several years now, but there is this extra cause for concern and later an urgency that never seemed justified. It seems like a missed beat, which is one of several problems with director Peter Sohn and writer Meg LeFauve's entry into the Pixar oeuvre. There are a lot of missed beats here. A few dots that don't get connected or gaps that don't get filled.

It starts with a shaky foundation. The crux of the film is Arlo getting separated from his family and then having to find his way back home, so it has a Toy Story and Finding Nemo adventure aspect to it, but the movie throws up a proposition and then never follows through with it. That proposition is that this is a world where dinosaurs co-exist with humans. Dinosaurs never went extinct and in fact have evolved to speak and be farmers, while humans are primitive animals who behave like dogs.

Arlo meets one such human whom he names Spot. Spot is of course a common dog name, but Spot could have easily been named Tarzan or Mowgli. Spot is the same as them, but he just happens to live in a real-life Jurassic World. Yet, he does act more like a wild creature than even Tarzan, the Edgar Rice Burroughs character, or Mowgli, the character from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Despite that or perhaps because of that, Sohn's film seeks to disagree with Michael Crichton's proposition that dinosaurs and humans can't live together on the same land or possibly same continent.

At one point, Spot starts to steal food from Arlo's family and Arlo's father, Poppa, voiced by Jeffrey Wright, doesn't hesitate with wanting to kill Spot. If he had the opportunity, it's more than likely that Poppa would have killed Spot without blinking. Dinosaurs are supposedly civilized in this world, but beyond what Arlo does, we never see any other interactions between dinosaurs and humans that would suggest an opposition to Crichton's depiction of interactions between dinosaurs and humans, which mainly were deadly ones.

Arlo acts like a wild dog at times, but at other times he seems extremely smart. It's a wonder if Sohn's proposition includes the possibility that humans will evolve into what they are now, but that's an idea that this movie doesn't seem to want to address. Sohn and his writers instead want to address the fact that as much as they're pulling from prior Pixar films, they're also pulling from one of the greatest animated films ever made, The Lion King (1994).

There are so many echoes or straight rip-offs from The Lion King that it was either distracting because this movie wasn't measuring up to that Oscar-winning film or else it was boring me. For starters, Poppa is no Mufasa. Yet, Sohn tries to invoke that classic character. Sohn gives Poppa two, very distinctive Mufasa-like moments here. Neither work. Not to spoil much, but a stampeding herd of wildebeests are replaced with a huge flood and a vision in the clouds is replaced with a lack of vision in terms of muddy footprints, and again neither have the same impact.

The water in this film is surprisingly well-animated. The opening shot is of water and it's very photo-realistic. It looks absolutely like actual water taken with a camera and not generated in a computer. Yet, what isn't well-animated ultimately is the relationship between Arlo and Poppa. Even though we get about as much time with them as we do with Simba and Mufasa, it just doesn't feel as powerful or as strong. Yes, there is a somewhat glorious scene in a field of lightning bugs but again it's just not as glorious as anything in The Lion King.

It also might not be saying much but this movie could also be the most violent movie to come from Disney or Pixar in a long while if not ever. Arlo witnesses death and on several occasions nearly dies. Sohn and his writers put Arlo through the ringer. At one point, I even thought the film and Arlo might go the route of 127 Hours. Spot rips an animal's head off with only his teeth. Attacks from rustlers, or redneck dinosaurs, as well as Pterodactyls are pretty intense and a Tyrannosaurus named Butch, voiced by Sam Elliott, tells a pretty gory story.

Unfortunately, this film just didn't connect. It felt too derivative rather than paying homage. Pixar's previous film Inside Out did such a fantastic job of connecting and having such literal emotional resonance but doing so in such different ways. This one felt way too formulaic and it relied too much on conventions and archetypes that it just became too lame.

One Star out of Five.
Rated PG for peril, action and thematic elements.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.

Sanjay's Super Team is the short film that ran before this one. It nicely compares the Hindu myths with comic book myths. Like with the recent Master of None, it puts to the forefront the conflict of Indian-Americans in this country. It's well-drawn and while I appreciate that there's a brown-skinned boy and his brown-skinned father as the protagonists, it didn't connect with me emotionally either unlike recent Disney or Pixar shorts like Feast (2014), The Blue Umbrella (2013), Day & Night (2010) or Partly Cloudy (2009).


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